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Hornets lose seventh straight to Blazers, 105-97

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The Hornets have lost their seventh straight game after coming up short against the Trail Blazers. What went wrong?

Sam Sharpe-USA TODAY Sports

The Charlotte Hornets have the second-worst losing streak in the league after losing their seventh straight game Wednesday night against the Portland Trail Blazers. The Philadelphia 76ers technically do not count as the front office is trying to lose games, so the Hornets may as well have the worst losing streak in the NBA.

How did we get to this point?

Well, the Hornets looked good early in the game. After starting the game 0 of 5 from the field and allowing the Blazers to start the game on an 8-0 run, the Hornets finish the first quarter on a 26-20 run. In the second quarter, the Hornets caught fire and shot 50 percent from the field while limiting the Blazers to 23.8 percent shooting. Things were clicking, and the team resembled last year's in all respects. Cody Zeller moved the ball in the high post much like Josh McRoberts did last year, and the Hornets saw success.

By the half, the Hornets were leading the Blazers 56-45. On the season, the Hornets are averaging only 21.1 assists per game on 36.3 made field goals, but in the first half of Wednesday's game, they had 16 assists on 25 made field goals. Brian Roberts got hot and scored 15 points on 6 of 7 shooting in just 12 minutes, and was a key cog in the Hornets' first half dominance.

But after halftime, everything fell apart.

The Hornets shot 40 percent from the field in the third quarter and allowed the Blazers to shoot 56.5 percent in return. The team looked disjointed, and word got out that Marvin Williams was getting x-rays. He was diagnosed with a left shoulder strain and didn't return to the game, which hurt the Hornets' already-bad depth. In the middle of the third quarter, Kemba Walker also went down. He eventually returned to the floor, but it was around the time he was taken out that the Hornets really lost control of the game.

In the fourth quarter, the Hornets shot 34.8 percent from the field. Needless to say, they were unable to come back and let the game slip away. The Blazers hit 3-pointer after 3-pointer in the second half (8 of 15), and the Hornets simply could not keep up offensively. After leaving the game with a perceived injury, Walker played all 12 minutes of the fourth quarter, but something happened.

Lance Stephenson didn't see a single second of playing time in the fourth.

This is especially surprising because Stephenson played fairly well through three quarters (eight points, seven rebounds, five assists, zero turnovers in 22.5 minutes). Clifford clearly wasn't happy with Stephenson for some reason, and instead opted to play Gerald Henderson in crunch time. Henderson performed admirably, but the Hornets probably would have played better with Stephenson on the floor down the stretch.

Al Jefferson played a standard Big Al game, putting up a quiet 21 points and 14 rebounds in 35 minutes. He struggled immensely against the Blazers' front line of LaMarcus Aldridge and Robin Lopez early on, but once the ball started moving he found easier looks and converted them with ease. Unfortunately, Jefferson was a -12 on the game.

Usually, plus-minus is a terrible stat to assess a player's value in a game, but tonight, it got it right. The five Hornets with the highest plus-minus tonight? Brian Roberts, Cody Zeller, Bismack Biyombo, Kemba Walker, and Lance Stephenson. Those players led the Hornets in their dominant second quarter, and it's strange that Clifford moved away from that lineup down the stretch. Zeller and Stephenson in particular have excellent chemistry together, as both are high IQ players with relentless motors and great lateral movement. They were able to find many easy looks at the basket in the game, which makes it so much weirder that Clifford didn't play Stephenson in the fourth quarter.

Now, the Hornets are 4-12 on the season, losers of seven straight, and heading into one of the tougher stretches of this season. They play the Golden State Warriors on Friday, the Atlanta Hawks on Saturday, and the Chicago Bulls next Wednesday. Luckily, there's also a lot of downtime between now and Wednesday, which should allow the Hornets to regroup and rest their key players. The Hornets' margin for error is becoming increasingly small, and if the NBA Playoffs are their goal this season, they're going to need to show how much they want it.