Small as the margin for error is in center Al Jefferson’s absence, the last thing the Charlotte Hornets can afford is to give the ball away.
Yet that’s precisely what they did Wednesday in a 102-83 loss to the Houston Rockets. The Hornets committed 18 turnovers – far more than their NBA-best 11.4 average – and the Rockets turned those giveaways into 22 points.
The Hornets (10-23) trailed by only two points at halftime, but the pattern of their eventual demise was set; they’d committed 11 turnovers, essentially their average for entire games.
“That’s far too many turnovers,” said shooting guard Gerald Henderson (16 points). “And then in the second half we just gave them the ball and they turned it into a layup.”
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That play was a bad pass by point guard Kemba Walker that Patrick Beverley converted into a layup 90 seconds into the third quarter. The Rockets (22-9) rank third in the NBA in steals, averaging 9.13 per game, so they’re certainly adept at takeaways, but the Hornets made this easy for their opponent.
“Just two really bad stretches – the one to start the second half, going 12-2, and in the fourth quarter,” said coach Steve Clifford. “This was about 18 turnovers.”
The Hornets lost their fourth in a row. This was their first game without Jefferson, expected to miss at least four weeks while recovering from a strained adductor muscle in his left groin.
The offense runs through Jefferson in the post, or at least it did before this injury. Now the Hornets will have to adapt. Clifford mentioned Henderson specifically before the game as someone who can step up to compensate for the 18 points Jefferson averages.
“We’ll definitely play different,” Henderson said. “We’ll have to play quicker and add some things for different guys that work to their skill sets.
“It definitely hurts (to lose Jefferson) but we’ll figure out what works best with the people we have.”
Jefferson’s absence makes them less skilled offensively and also smaller and less deep at the power positions. Clifford started Bismack Biyombo at center and he picked up two fouls in the first five minutes trying to guard Houston center Dwight Howard.
When Biyombo came out, Clifford went to 6-foot-7 Jason Maxiell – a burly, smart defender but far from an ideal height to play center.
The other alternatives among big men are Cody Zeller, who is starting at power forward, Marvin Williams and rookie Noah Vonleh.
Vonleh was called back from a stint in the NBA Development League and caught up with the team at morning shootaround.
Clifford has called Williams his most versatile player, but Williams missed most of the fourth quarter after a collision with Houston’s Joey Dorsey.
Williams had a gash on the top of his head that required three stitches to close. He didn’t complete treatment until minutes after the game ended.
Clifford will bring the players in for a New Year’s Day film session, looking to tighten up how they will function offensively in Jefferson’s absence.
“A lot of pick-and-rolls and dribble-handoffs,” Clifford said. “And we’ve got to make it quick.”