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Charlotte Hornets 76, Atlanta Hawks 87: Notes and observations

The sleepy Charlotte Hornets were no match for the Atlanta Hawks' alert and mobile defense which awarded the division foes a valuable tiebreaker.

Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

Atlanta's Defense Smothering the Hornets

The mobile Hawks defense has given coach Clifford's Hornets fits beforehand. In November of 2014, Charlotte managed to score one point less than last night when the Hawks held them to 75.

That particular contest produced such lowlight possessions as these consecutive two:

One would expect a lot more from this year's team which has more capable creators and better spacing. That wasn't the case, however.

Atlanta's mobility on defense stumped a seemingly uninspired Hornets team. Charlotte's perimeter players where flabbergasted by switches on pick-n-rolls or the big coming up as high as the level of the screen at least.

Take a look at yesterday's sleepwalking version of Nicolas Batum who renders life and basketball meaningless after Al Horford switches onto him in the pick-n-roll:

Paul Millsap, meanwhile, showcased that he had enough quickness to stop Kemba Walker's heroic isolation attempts after the power forward switched on him in the pick-n-roll:

Overall, this created an environment in which the Hornets lacked the needed oomph to outplay Atlanta's constantly moving and rotating defense.

There's a reason why someone like the San Antonio Spurs can plug in certain role players at any given time and maintain their strength on offense (among other obvious reasons).

Their players are conditioned to enter sets and then proceed through them in blistering speed. No prolonged holding of the ball, just dribble or pass your way to the next action. At some point the odds are simply against the defense and it being able to contain so many actions.

In comparison, the Hornets would literally have possessions where they have nine seconds left and the attack hasn't even started yet.

From that point on it's not particularly hard for Kyle Korver to suss out a rim run by Cody Zeller and close out on Courtney Lee to kill off the possession.

Mike Muscala Stopping Al Jefferson

Hypothetically, Al Jefferson could be the helping factor on offense for such a struggling Hornets team. Big Al could check in the game and punish lesser reserve bigs with his post game.

First off, that hasn't happened so far either way. Jefferson has missed gimmies and looked unimpressive ever since his return.

Second off, Mike Muscala denied Charlotte this possibility by simply fronting Jefferson in the post. Similarly to the plays mentioned above, it was enough to shut down the Hornets offense and have the team nowhere with about ten seconds left on the shot clock.

Jefferson himself was scoreless after the Muscala-heavy first half and finished with only six points on 3/11 shooting from the field.

If we were to base this on their respective performances during the current season, there aren't too many reasons for one to pick Al Jefferson over Spencer Hawes once the latter returns to the court from his back injury. You almost have to feel bad for Big Al who could have declined his player option and entered free agency last summer.

Marvin Williams Attempting 18 Field Goals

The former Hawk set a new personal Hornets-high with 18 field goal attempts thanks to Atlanta's pressure on the ball handler in the pick-n-roll. Marv was pretty much the only big to successfully execute these 4-on-3 possessions (nay to Cody Zeller and Frank Kaminsky), the highlight being three made three-pointers in a row in a matter of two minutes down the stretch of the first half.

This trivial fact coincides with a trend which is visible during the last 14 games. Williams has attempted 11.3 field goal attempts per game in that stretch of time, up from 8.0 the first 44 games of the season.

So far his percentages have not only been maintained but actually have improved (50.0% FG, up from 40.9%, 45.6% 3P, up from 36.0%) as well.

For the record, his career-high is 20 field goal attempts (set while in Atlanta) and now Williams has nearly approached it three times during the aforementioned stretch of games (17 at Sacramento's classic, 17 vs. Miami and now 18 at Atlanta).

It's another testament to his newfound confidence and the very solid year he has had.

Tiebreaker Situation

Unless you count the Boston Celtics as a direct adversary in the chase for the playoffs, this is the first important tiebreaker lost by the Charlotte Hornets.

The currently seven-placed Hornets hold very valuable tiebreakers over the Indiana Pacers (6th) and the Chicago Bulls (8th). Moreover, the team is in a very good situation to grab the hold of others as well.

Charlotte is 1-0 against the Detroit Pistons (currently 9th, one game at home and one on the road left), 2-1 versus the Washington Wizards (currently 10th, one game on the road left, will be the 80th game of the season) and 1-1 against the Orlando Magic (currently 11th, two home games left, second will be the 82nd game of the season).

Perhaps, one of those late-season match-ups end up being meaningless for the opposition and the Hornets can even clinch one thanks to a game against reserves.

Only the Miami Heat (4th) are up on the Hornets team (record of 1-2) and this tiebreaker will be resolved on March, the 17th on the road.