The Charlotte Hornets dropped their sixth straight game Monday night and have now lost eight out of their last nine. The Los Angeles Clippers clamped down on the Hornets defensively en route to a 113-92 victory that was much closer throughout the contest than the final scored indicated.
The Clippers boast two of the best players in the world in Chris Paul and Blake Griffin and they both played like it against the Hornets. Paul, playing in front of his native North Carolina crowd, had 22 points on 10-16 shooting and 15 assists, with all but one of those coming in the first three quarters. Griffin was equally impressive, scoring 22 points, grabbing 16 boards, and dishing out 9 assists, one shy of what would have been this season’s most impressive triple-double to date.
Griffin used his quickness and strength routinely against the Hornets and they didn’t have anyone to match him—he overpowered Marvin Williams and blew by Al Jefferson. Cody Zeller played him well in the first half, but ended up in foul trouble.
Zeller did have an excellent offensive game, scoring 17 points on just seven shots. The Hornets second unit outplayed the Clippers bench in the first half, which led to some impressive offensive numbers for the Hornets in that time. However, when the Clippers reverted back to their starters in the fourth quarter and exerted their will defensively, the Hornets just didn’t have enough offensive firepower.
Head coach Steve Clifford talked in the postgame press conference about Lance Stephenson, Williams, and which guys should be out there in the final quarter. He discussed his concern with the ball "sticking" and how much more space there is on the floor with Williams shooting 3-pointers. However, there is always give-and-take, and the Hornets sacrificed Stephenson’s play-making and perimeter defense in the process.
Clifford has had a difficult task this season trying to integrate a very new roster while dealing with tons of injuries across multiple positions. Both P.J. Hairston and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist were out again tonight and Gary Neal went down in the second half and did not return. Getting a consistent rotation of players who can get used to playing with each other and develop some on-court chemistry has been all but impossible for Clifford and his staff.
What probably are the Hornets best five players – Kemba Walker, Stephenson, Kidd-Gilchrist, Zeller, and Jefferson – have only played a total of 14 minutes together this entire season. In contrast, the Clippers best lineup (arguably) – Paul, J.J. Redick, Matt Barnes, Griffin, and DeAndre Jordan – has already logged 198 minutes together. That’s a big difference. The most important thing a new roster needs is time together, and the Hornets have had very little of it so far.
Unfortunately, the NBA doesn’t slow down and wait for injured teams. The Hornets have had a very tough schedule to start the year, and it’s not getting easier anytime soon. They face the Portland Trail Blazers on Wednesday, the Golden State Warriors on Friday, and then travel to Atlanta to take on the Hawks. The Hornets will have to figure this out on the fly and with some adversity.
But hey, Kemba does have some sick handles…