How narrow has the Charlotte Hornets’ margin for error grown in center Al Jefferson’s absence?
“Slim,” a disconsolate Kemba Walker answered following his team’s fifth consecutive loss, 91-87 at home to the Cleveland Cavaliers on Friday.
This really did look like the optimum chance to break that streak. The Cavs, minus superstar LeBron James (sore knee and back), spotted the Hornets an 11-point lead. But the Hornets committed 15 turnovers, which Cleveland converted into 23 points
When you lose your leading scorer, your best hope of running a functional offense, these giveaways become critical. In their past three games the Hornets have committed 19, 18 and 15 turnovers, and that just won’t do in their current depleted state.
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“Every team has its things; we cannot withstand committing 15 turnovers,” said coach Steve Clifford. “The one thing we cannot do is commit turnovers.”
The Hornets (10-24) entered this game averaging the second-fewest turnovers in the NBA at 11.6 per game. But they committed six turnovers in the first quarter alone Friday, resulting in 10 Cleveland points.
Those giveaways ran the spectrum of how to lose possessions; anything from a shot-clock violation to an offensive foul to an old-fashioned bad pass. The Hornets shot so well early (10-of-16 from the field in the first quarter) that they still led, but the turnovers squandered a chance to really jump on the Cavaliers early.
Then they hit a wall in the second and third quarters, shooting 15-of-48 in that span.
Cleveland (19-14) looked plenty fragile Friday; the Cavaliers entered this game on a three-game losing streak, with all kinds of speculation nationally about whether first-year coach David Blatt commands his team’s attention.
The Cavaliers got back two injured players in Kevin Love and Shawn Marion. Love finished the game with 27 points off 9-of-15 shooting from the field and 3-of-4 from 3-point range.
Love scored so easily on Hornets power forward Cody Zeller that Clifford used Zeller just 31/2 minutes in the second half.
“As a group we had to have better awareness to get to the best player on the floor,” Clifford said of Love’s impact.
The Hornets had five players score in double figures Friday, led by shooting guard Gerald Henderson with 14 points. Clifford is trying to re-adjust the offense in Jefferson’s absence (he’s out at least four weeks with a groin strain) and Henderson is now the closest thing the Hornets have to a low-post threat.
“I think the last couple of games we’ve had an issue with that,” Henderson said of turnovers. “Fifteen is just too many with the guys we have now. We just can’t give the other team our possessions and must be more efficient on offense.
“We feel like we have enough weapons offensively, but we need to use them right and play to our strengths.”
Clifford said the realistic goal for this team right now is to reach 95 points in a game. He believes the Hornets have improved enough defensively of late to hold opponents below that.
But only if they stop this sudden propensity to throw the ball away.