Scott Fowler

Hornets star guarantees a win Monday night – but can team solve these 3 problems?

Nic Batum, whose Charlotte Hornets have lost nine of their past 10 games, has publicly guaranteed a win over Philadelphia Monday night.
Nic Batum, whose Charlotte Hornets have lost nine of their past 10 games, has publicly guaranteed a win over Philadelphia Monday night. AP

As guarantees go, this wasn't exactly Joe Namath correctly calling the outcome of the third Super Bowl.

Still, in these dark days, the Charlotte Hornets will take whatever they can get.

Nicolas Batum was talking late Saturday night about Monday's home game vs. Philadelphia when he said: "We're going to win this game on Monday. We will."

Are you guaranteeing it? I asked.

"Yeah," he said.

Batum better be right. If the Hornets (24-30) can't beat Philadelphia (20-34) at home Monday, then this is a Charlotte team that really doesn't deserve to make the playoffs. And after going 1-9 in their past 10 games, that's the way things are headed.

Charlotte hovered around spots No. 4 through 7 in the Eastern Conference for much of the year but now sits in ninth, on the outside looking in.

Why? Here are the three reasons I see:

1. Poor three-point shooting.

We all know the NBA has turned into a league where you better have four players on the floor at all times who can shoot the 3-pointer well.

"Top to bottom, I feel our team is built around 3-point shooting," forward Marvin Williams said.

But the Hornets don't do it nearly as well as they did compared to other NBA teams when they went 48-34 a year ago. The Hornets were fifth in made 3-pointers per game last season and are 11th this season. Even more telling, they were tied for seventh in team 3-point percentage last season but are 21st this season.

Said Hornets coach Steve Clifford: "Frankly – and I told (the players) this and it's just reality – we have to start making open shots. I watch every night our quality of shot and it's good. ... We're getting open shots and we have to start knocking them in. When we do, that's when we'll start to win."

In a league where players who shoot 40 percent from 3-point range are no longer uncommon, only exhilarating but seemingly exhausted all-star Kemba Walker (39.1) approaches that figure. Players like Frank Kaminsky (30.8) and Jeremy Lamb (24.7) have dragged down the average considerably.

2. Personnel issues.

Let's just say that trading for Miles Plumlee wasn't the answer. Simply put, the Hornets don't have enough talent to compete with the NBA's elite teams unless Walker and Batum are playing at the absolute top of their games.

I coached a recreational team one year in which there was a league rule in which you had to play only your reserves the entire second quarter. That "B" team quarter many times would win or lose the game, especially since the starters for both teams were often about even in talent.

The Hornets lose games with their own "B" team constantly – including the one Saturday night against the L.A. Clippers. Why general manager Rich Cho gave Lamb that big contract extension in 2015 I still can't imagine. The team basically goes downhill in a hurry whenever Walker is not on the floor. It's probably worth a shakeup – perhaps moving Michael Kidd-Gilchrist to the second unit to keep it more in line?

3. Undisciplined – and soft – defense.

The Hornets are not a particularly big team, nor a particularly physical one. Their one stab at trying to rectify that ended up in the lost cause that was Roy Hibbert.

In the best-case scenario, Plumlee will be a very similar player to Cody Zeller. In the worst he will keep looking out of shape and get dunked on like he was Saturday by Blake Griffin (Sports Illustrated tabbed it "RIPlumlee").

You can get away with not having a Hassan Whiteside in the paint in today's NBA, but you do that by being a very smart defensive team. The Hornets play pretty good defense in most games for three quarters but have a Panther-esque tendency to fall apart in the final period.

"In the fourth quarter the offense is kind of the same," Batum said flatly. "But we don't stop anybody in the fourth."

Some of it is just bad basketball. No one blocked out Griffin Saturday night on the game's deciding play, and he found himself so open for an offensive rebound that he simply dunked it. The Hornets make elementary mistakes at crucial times – and that's a reflection on Clifford and his coaching staff, too. And he knows it.

Said Clifford: "This is on the coach now – we're just not as disciplined as we have been the other years. We're just not. It's too many coverage mistakes."

Can it be fixed?

Can the Hornets solve these problems? Well, they can at least duct-tape them. The personnel part cannot be improved much until the summer, but better shooting and defense are within the realm of possibility. A third of the season does remain.

"A couple of wins," Williams said hopefully, "and we're right in there at eighth or sixth (in the Eastern playoff race). We still feel like fourth or fifth (place) is very reasonable. Obviously, we're going to start running out of time here."

Yes, they are. So Batum better be right about this guarantee, because these Hornets are on the verge of spiraling straight down the drain.

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