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To no avail, defense proves to be the winning recipe in win over Wizards

The Hornets grind out a win in a defensive battle against the Wizards

NBA: Washington Wizards at Charlotte Hornets Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

It’s become a trend hasn’t it?

Play good defense, the Hornets win.

It hasn’t been the season everyone was hoping for, but it’s gutsy performances like last night’s 98-93 win over the Washington Wizards that keep the Charlotte Hornets faithful hoping for a playoff push.

It was an ugly, physical defensive battle, just the way coach Steve Clifford prefers it.

As one of the better teams in the second half of the season, the Wizards shot below 37 percent from the field and made 11 of their 33 3-point attempts. They also had about a dozen frustrated glares, thanks to the relentless defensive effort.

In their 30 wins this season, the Hornets have held opponents to under 42 percent from the field, whereas in their 39 losses, opponents have combined to shoot over 47 percent. There are exceptions, but since the Hornets are 28th in NBA in shooting percentage themselves, the five and half percent difference tends to be the deciding factor between wins and losses.

Another important statistic this season has been holding teams to under 100 points. The Hornets have a hard time winning in shootouts, which is another reason they win or lose based on how their defense performs.

In fact, this season, the team is 10-36 when they give up 100-plus points. Yes, you read that right. The inverse of course, is 20-3 when they give up less than 100 points. Without a doubt, teams tend to have better records when they give up less than 100 points, but the Hornets’ case is more skewed than most.

Anyway, back to last night’s win. Individually, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist played perhaps his best game defensively all season. After Bradley Beal started two for two in the first quarter, he missed all five of the shots he took in the second quarter. Kidd-Gilchrist, who guarded Beal for most of the night, proceeded to bring it to another level in the third quarter. He scored all eight of his points in the quarter and continued his stellar defensive play, also finishing with four blocks and two steals.

Beal finished the game 6/14 from the field and his counterpart John Wall, was even worse from the field, shooting 5/16. Wizards big man Marcin Gortat also struggled last night in major part due to Cody Zeller’s play. Again, Zeller proved why he’s so important to the team, leading the team with 19 points, five rebounds and four steals. Again, his activity on both sides of the ball helped propel the team towards a victory, as shown here:

There are very few centers that can get up and down the floor as quickly and efficiently as Zeller. He eventually added another block to the one he had on Gortat, and as a team, the Hornets blocked eight shots in total, well above their season average of 4.9.

However, even more impressive was Zeller’s one-on-one defense against Beal on the potential game-tying three. Good luck finding a lot of centers that can do this:

The Hornets improved to 27-22 with Zeller in the lineup, and he’s quietly having a stellar season. His defensive rating of 101.5 is best on the team, along with his net rating of 7.3 among players qualified.

While Zeller and Kidd-Gilchrist deserve a lot of credit, the rest of the team stepped up and made big plays defensively when it mattered. Newly signed Briante Weber put in great work throughout his 13 minutes of playing time, showing energy and fortitude on the defensive side of the ball. With no surprise, Marvin Williams did the same.

Most of the time, the Hornets lack consistent energy on the defensive side, which is where teams take advantage. Last night, there was no period of time where the Hornets conceded effort.

With just 13 games remaining, it’ll take performances such as last night’s in order for the Hornets to make a final push for the postseason. They still stand four games outside of the eight seed, but certainly looked up for the challenge last night.

Also, thought I’d leave you with this. Enjoy.