Another blown double-digit lead, another loss by the Charlotte Hornets, another fourth quarter with shooting guard Lance Stephenson on the bench.
The Portland Trail Blazers overwhelmed the Hornets in the third quarter, making up an 11-point deficit and more to eventually win 105-97.
The Hornets are 4-12 and on a seven-game losing streak. In the first half they looked really good – organized and precise – and then in the third quarter they unraveled giving up 13-of-23 shooting by the 12-3 Blazers.
That third quarter was the end of Stephenson’s night. Just like in the loss Monday to the Los Angeles Clippers, Stephenson sat the entire quarter.
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“I’m going to play the guys I’m comfortable with,” Clifford said after the game. “When he went out there (at halftime) I wasn’t planning on not playing him. Brian Roberts was our best player tonight – him playing at the (point) and the (shooting guard). That’s the way it is.”
Roberts scored a career-high 24 points off the bench on 10-of-17 shooting. Roberts playing 32 minutes was partially about the Blazers using a small backcourt of Damian Lillard and Steve Blake for long stretch. But it was apparently also about Clifford not getting some things from Stephenson he expects.
Stephenson, who signed a three-year, $27.4 million contract in July, finished Wednesday with eight points on 4-of-11 shooting plus seven rebounds and five assists.
Asked about not playing these past two fourth quarters, Stephenson replied, “Hey it’s the coach’s decision. If he doesn’t play me in the fourth I’m just going to continue to work hard and do what it takes to win. Other than that I think I’m good. We just need to work harder.
“Hopefully coach figures out what we need to do to win games.”
Stephenson dismissed the idea he’s still struggling to figure how to fit in with new teammates.
“I’m taking more shots and I feel more comfortable on the floor. I feel good,” Stephenson said. “I think I’ve got it now. No more excuses.”
Clifford said in his postgame remarks that perhaps all the preseason hype about Stephenson’s potential impact has been counter-productive.
“To be fair, and I’ve said this to him, one of the things that’s made it more difficult for him is he came here and people proclaimed him this next superstar,” Clifford said.
“He’s a talented kid. He’s 23 years old. He started two years and averaged 13 points a game. When Al Jefferson came here he’d averaged 19 and 10 for eight years. You knew what you were going to get. That’s what Lance needs to become. So in many ways it’s not fair.
“He’s not a star; he’s a guy who has the talent to be a star. To be a star in this league you’ve got to do this over years.”
The Trail Blazers have an abundance of stars. Shooting guard Wesley Matthews finished with 28 points on 10-of-15 shooting. Point guard Damian Lillard added 22 points and seven assists. Forward LaMarcus Aldridge totaled nine points and 14 rebounds.
Jefferson had 21 points and 14 rebounds for the Hornets.
The Blazers made up all of Charlotte’s halftime lead in the first eight minutes of the third quarter. It didn’t help that the already injury-ridden Hornets had even more ailments. Starting power forward Marvin Williams missed the second half with a shoulder strain. Point guard Kemba Walker had to leave the game for a few minutes of the third quarter after being kneed in the thigh and elbowed on the head.
Add to those injuries that shooting guard P.J. Hairston left the arena with a sprained right thumb. Hairston was just back from four games out with a sprained right ankle.
But injuries weren’t the reason they lost Wednesday.
“We just started the third quarter with no intensity, no purpose, no organization,” Clifford said. “So the game changed quickly,”