This is how it has to be: Play ugly but rugged, stick around until the last minute and then hope point guard Kemba Walker can make a big shot to win it.
The Charlotte Hornets have come to accept who they are.
“We’re not going to get everything easy,” said center Bismack Biyombo, who totaled 12 points, 12 rebounds and two blocks in a 78-76 victory over the Miami Heat Wednesday. “Everybody here is bringing it.”
Everybody must. For all the change in the off-season the Hornets are still basically what the Bobcats were last season – good defensively and offensively challenged most nights.
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They have now held three consecutive opponents (Indiana, Minnesota and the Heat) to 80 or fewer points and the Pacers game went to overtime. But in only one of those games did they score more than 80.
They have won eight of their last nine games to climb to 18-25, challenging for one of the last two playoff spots in the Eastern Conference. But seldom do these games look easy or pretty.
“Biz hit it right on the head – it’s not going to be easy and we’ve accepted that,” said Walker, who hit three of four free throws in the last 23 seconds to maintain a lead.
Even then the Hornets had to watch Miami’s Chris Bosh and Mario Chalmers launch 3-pointers in the game’s last possession that would have won this one. Bosh got a clean look with three seconds left. Chalmer’s attempt was more rushed. But those are the kind of shots that helped Miami win 17 of the last 19 games in this series.
“We have to be super-aggressive on the boards and make teams miss,” said Walker, just back from a two-game absence with a sore left knee. “And we’ve been doing that.”
Certainly they did Wednesday. The Hornets held the Heat (18-24) to 35 percent shooting
from the field and outrebounded Miami 56-41. Badly as the Hornets shot Wednesday (27-of-80), they compensated with 20 offensive rebounds. That resulted in 16 second-chance points for Charlotte.
“That was the game – how we won,” said Hornets coach Steve Clifford. “It was Biz, Cody (Zeller) and Mike (Kidd-Gilchrist) with 18 offensive rebounds.”
The Hornets caught a bit of a break Wednesday with two Heat starters out. Small forward Luol Deng (illness) and center Hassan Whiteside (sprained ankle) didn’t make the trip Tuesday night after the Heat’s home loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder.
But the Hornets are dealing with their own injury, or at least post-injury, issues. Walker was iffy to play pre-game, testing how his knee felt. He started, but Clifford was concerned in how he played pick-and-roll defense in the first half.
“He wasn’t confident at all pushing off” his left leg, Clifford said. “In the second half he looked a lot more comfortable.”
The Hornets are still blending center Al Jefferson and swingman Lance Stephenson back into the mix after each had long injury absences. Both again played as reserves.
Stephenson struggled, scoring four points and committing four turnovers. Jefferson shot well (6-of-11 for 12 points), but he looked noticeably tired when Clifford pulled him in the fourth quarter after Jefferson played 19 minutes.
“I don’t feel like Al has had enough time to be in rhythm,” Clifford said. “He still had some good (offensive) moves but (on defense) it’s hard for him to get to Bosh.”