Yes, the Charlotte Hornets are good enough to make the playoffs in the Eastern Conference.
No, they are not good enough to overcome the defensive sloppiness they demonstrated in the second quarter against the defending NBA champions.
The Hornets gave up 59 percent shooting from the field and 5-of-6 shooting from 3-point range in that second quarter against the San Antonio Spurs. That allowed the Spurs to build a 16-point lead and hold off the Hornets’ late charge, 98-93.
This loss broke a five-game winning streak for the Hornets (15-25), who are attempting to chase down the Brooklyn Nets for at least the eighth and final spot in the Eastern Conference playoffs.
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At least one Hornet, shooting guard Lance Stephenson, expressed conviction Wednesday that this team will be in the post-season.
“We’ll be fine. We’ll get to the playoffs,” said Stephenson, back from a 14-game absence with a pelvic sprain. “(The season is) not a sprint.”
The Hornets are closing in on the season’s halfway point. They’ve been on an upswing of late, despite the absence of both Stephenson and center Al Jefferson. Kemba Walker continued his recent stellar play with 28 points.
But that wasn’t enough against a savvy and skilled Spurs team that won its eighth consecutive game in this series. Manu Ginobili came off the bench to score 27 for San Antonio, which improved to 24-16.
The second quarter was pretty dreadful, with the Hornets being outscored 35-27. Former North Carolina player Danny Green scored nine of his 18 points in that quarter, making both his 3-point attempts. Matt Bonner added eight points in that span, making two of three 3s.
“Against a team like the Spurs, you can’t play five minutes of no defense – particularly our team,” said Hornets coach Steve Clifford. “But the same guys who made mistakes in the second quarter played great in the second half.
“We don’t have any room for error .So (playing with focus) should be my expectation and their expectation of themselves.”
The Spurs were playing their second game on back-to-back nights, after losing to the Washington Wizards Tuesday. Spurs coach Gregg Popovich was looking to limit minutes for Tim Duncan (14 points and 10 rebounds) and Ginobili.
Even on a night when the Spurs were rationing minutes for their stars, they had enough to never trail in the second half.
“They just understand their game,” Walker said of the Spurs’ precise performances. “They know how to play.”
Yet Walker was happy with how hard the Hornets played to get back into this game after trailing 50-34. He said that’s an expectation.
“You have no choice but to fight back,” Walker said. “We always want to get that extra effort, that extra push.”
One of the Hornets who redeemed himself in the second half was rookie P.J. Hairston. Clifford identified him as one of the players with shoddy defense early, but Hairston’s eight-point second half and improved defense impressed the coach.
“I want him on the floor with an attitude that says, ‘Play me more!’ “ Clifford said. “I like him, but I haven’t seen him with that attitude until tonight.”
Stephenson struggled with his shot (3-of-8) but was happy with his energy.
“I did a lot to keep my body in shape,” Stephenson said. “I felt good, I didn’t feel winded.”