The best thing about the Charlotte Hornets’ performance Wednesday?
That it didn’t count.
The preseason is about problem-solving, and the Hornets had problems in abundance in a 104-84 exhibition loss to the Detroit Pistons at Time Warner Cable Arena.
This was an 11 a.m. tip-off, the audience made up of area middle-school students. Clearly these Hornets aren’t morning people. They were outrebounded 58-36, allowed the Pistons to shoot 47.6 percent from the field and shot 34 percent.
“Usually when a game starts in the morning or early afternoon, the team with more energy has a huge advantage,” Hornets coach Steve Clifford said. “They put more into this game than we did.”
The Hornets are 2-2 this preseason. They played horrible defense in the first exhibition against the Philadelphia 76ers, seemed to improve against the Washington Wizards and Orlando Magic, then hit bottom Wednesday.
The first half was punctuated by a seven-minute span in which the Hornets failed to make a field goal. They shot 3-of-20 in the first quarter to trail 26-13 and never recovered.
The Hornets unexpectedly made the playoffs last season by persistently defending and rebounding. The off-season was about upgrading the shooting, but going 3-of-22 from 3-point range Wednesday called that into question.
“If we don’t defend and rebound, we don’t have the type of offensive team that will give us much chance of winning,” Clifford said. “In the first quarter we missed a bunch of shots that were pretty good shots.”
The Pistons are built for rebounding, starting a huge front line of Andre Drummond, Greg Monroe and Josh Smith. Monroe started the game with a spin move on Marvin Williams for a layup, and the Pistons led from start to finish. The largest margin was 27 points.
The Pistons tried a defensive wrinkle you don’t see much in the preseason in the NBA, aggressively double-teaming center Al Jefferson in the post. That limited Jefferson to seven shots in 25 minutes, and no other Hornet took advantage of the Pistons’ attention to Jefferson until the game was out of reach.
“Maybe it had something to do with the 11 o’clock start, but we didn’t get off to a good start collectively as a team,” said shooting guard Gary Neal, who scored 20 points off the bench. “Those guys are extremely big and had us down 20 (in rebounds) at the half. They set the tone with their physicality.”
The Hornets’ big men didn’t respond well to that physicality, committing plenty of fouls. Cody Zeller had five in 17 minutes. Jefferson had four and Williams had 3.
Neal said the Hornets understand they drifted from their persona Wednesday.
“You know over 82 games you’re not going to shoot 50 percent,” Neal said. “Coach Clifford’s staple is defense and rebounding. We didn’t do that as well as we would have liked and the scoreboard showed that.”