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The Charlotte Hornets have issues — and time to fix them

While this season hasn’t gone as planned for Steve Clifford’s squad, it isn’t time to panic just yet.

NBA: Charlotte Hornets at Boston Celtics Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

The Charlotte Hornets are in a funk. That’s pretty easy to see.

After a fiery, energetic start to the season in which they momentarily held sole possession of the second seed in the Eastern Conference with an 8-3 record. Since then, however they have stumbled to a 13-18 record, and are now teetering around the .500 mark. Right now they sit exactly on it, at 21-21.

I know, I know. You know all this. You’ve heard this everywhere. The Hornets have melted down, it’s time to blow up the team! We lost to the Sixers! Tank for Markelle/ Lonzo/ Dennis! Well, I’m here to tell you that things are not as bleak as they may seem. Yes, there are clearly flaws that this team has to address (that I will get into shortly), but none of them are insurmountable, or detrimental to the entire season.

Last season through 42 games, Charlotte was 19-23. They got off to a good start at 14-8, and then things began to crumble. Over their next 20 games, the Hornets went 5-15, and endured a seven game losing streak. Sound familiar? This team has been in this situation before, and the players know they have to pick up the intensity in the second half of the season--something they’ve done before, and are very capable of doing again.

It’s obvious this team wants to win. You can see it in the way they play. You can tell by the way the bench reacts to big plays, and how the players pick each other up after a mental mistake or a missed call. When this team plays the way they are capable of playing, it’s beautiful to watch. Unfortunately, we have not seen that on a consistent basis this year.

No, the Hornets being .500 at the halfway point of the season is not the end of the world. Things will get better, as this team has too much heart to let this season slip away. With that being said, Charlotte is clearly in a slump right now, and one thing sticks out as the main source of the team’s problems; defense. More specifically, three point defense. For the season, the Hornets are dead last in the NBA in opponent three-pointers attempted per game, at 30.7. Given that statistic, it’s not a shock that the Hornets are 29th in the league in opponent three-point field goals made per game. Not having a solid defense outside the arc can really hurt a team’s performance, and the Hornets recent losing streak is a prime example of that.

Over Charlotte’s dreadful road trip in which they went 0-5, the team’s poor outside defense was really put on display. Every team the Hornets played made 10 or more threes. What’s worse, is that each of the five teams made more threes against the Hornets than their season averages. Even the Pistons, who are 30th in the NBA in made threes per game at 7.8, were able to hit 10 long balls.

If the Hornets are so bad at defending the perimeter, why is it just now starting to hurt them? Well, being last in the league in anything is never good, especially a statistic like this. However, what’s the best way to make up for giving up a lot of threes? Making a lot of threes. The Hornets were able to live with their poor outside defense early on in the season, because they were making just as many, if not more, threes than the opposition. Unfortunately, no NBA team can stay hot for an entire season, and the Hornets are no exception. When the threes stop falling for the Hornets, like they did on a few occasions on this five game losing skid (6-of-23 against the Philadelphia 76ers, 4-of-21 against the San Antonio Spurs), things start to get ugly.

In today’s NBA, it is impossible to completely take away the three-point shot, as it seemingly becomes more of a weapon for players around the league every year. However, the first step in the Hornets road back to the playoffs is cutting down considerably on the number of threes opposing teams are getting off against them.

The Hornets have been atrocious at defending the three this season, and it is really starting haunt them. However, that one factor alone can’t change the trajectory of a team quite this much. So what else is hurting the Hornets recently?

To put it simply, the bench. During the road trip, the Hornets bench was outscored by 108 points over five games. It seems like recently, there have been multiple games in which the starters for the Hornets gain momentum, and then the second unit gives it all back.

This is not to say that the bench of the Hornets is bad. In fact, the Hornets second unit has many talented players. But the chemistry, rhythm and flow that this second unit played with to start the year seems to be dwindling as the season progresses.

I truly believe there are brighter days ahead for the Charlotte Hornets.

This team, led by Kemba Walker, has too much heart to let a season with this much promise slip away. Of course this team has issues that need to be resolved, but every team does. The team gets along, has plenty of talent and is led by one of the most underrated coaches in the league. This season is far from over. It’s evident by the effort that each player gives every night that the Hornets haven’t quit on themselves, and with half the season remaining, you shouldn’t quit on them either.