Coach Steve Clifford said it’s no mystery what must change for the Charlotte Hornets to pull off a road win Sunday in Game 7.
“The rebounding game, our physicality, were really the biggest issues (Friday) night,” Clifford said during a Saturday conference call leading into Sunday’s 1 p.m. tip-off against the Miami Heat at American Airlines Arena.
The Hornets were outrebounded 46-31 Friday, and the Heat scored 19 second-chance points (points scored after offensive rebounds) to the Hornets’ nine.
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On average over the first six games of this series, the Hornets have been outrebounded by six per game.
Clifford knows the Heat has more size than the Hornets and a center, Gastonia native Hassan Whiteside, averaging 13.7 rebounds per game this season. But Friday’s disparity was about more than that.
“They got every 50-50 ball,” Clifford said of the Heat’s intensity chasing down loose balls.
The Hornets didn’t practice Saturday, with Clifford looking to save his players’ legs for a game that will eliminate one team and advance the other into the second round of the playoffs.
So they studied the video of what transpired for Miami to even the best-of-7 series.
“You’ve got to learn from what happened last night,” Clifford said. “In the first half we were not very good on defense (allowing the Heat 60 percent shooting from the field). The second half we were better.”
Hornets small forward Nic Batum sat out the second half Friday after aggravating the left foot strain that caused him to miss the third and fourth games of the series. Batum acknowledged he’s not sure how effective he’ll be Sunday off one day’s rest, the way the foot is feeling.
Clifford said he probably won’t know of Batum’s availability until just before tip-off.
This will be just the second Game 7 in the history of NBA basketball in Charlotte. The original Hornets lost a Game 7 in Milwaukee in 2001. Most of the playoff history for the original Hornets involved first-round series that were best-of-5.
The Heat is 5-3 all-time in Game 7s. Miami’s roster collectively has played about three times as many playoff games as the Hornets’ roster.
Perhaps most germane to Sunday, the Heat has won six of their past seven playoff games when faced with possible elimination.
Clifford has participated in three Game 7s as an assistant coach. His sense of Game 7s?
“You just never know.”
Bonnell: 704-358-5129; Twitter: @rick_bonnell