The Charlotte Hornets picked up an important home win over the Washington Wizards as head coach Steve Clifford returned
The Charlotte Hornets defeated the Washington Wizards last night, 133-109. It’s their second win in a row, and puts them just four games back of the 8th in the Eastern Conference.
It was also the first game back for head coach Steve Clifford. Out since November to deal with severe headaches, Clifford had his team looking energized and playing much better than their 18-25 record. The Hornets scored a franchise record 77 points in the first half, and the game was decided by the fourth quarter.
Like the Hornets, Clifford felt refreshed. As The Charlotte Observer’s Rick Bonnell writes, Clifford’s improved health stems from changes made at night:
No one knew what to expect when Clifford returned. He talked about delegating more responsibility to his staff. The doctors told him he needed to start shutting down his mind more at night, maybe turning off a game on television and instead flipping to a movie or some other distraction. Or as Clifford described, obsess a little less on how to get Jeremy Lamb a couple more high-quality shots per game.
Many of us can relate to this. Most jobs are stressful, and those who work during the day are left only with evenings and nights to wind down. While some nights may require us to work late, it’s often nice to focus on something other than our jobs before we go to sleep. In Clifford’s case, it sounds like he wasn’t doing this nearly enough (or at all). He wasn’t getting enough sleep, which prompted the headaches, and as a result, caused him to get little to no sleep. Focusing less on coaching has allowed him to get more sleep, and as he pointed out when he returned last week, he’s up to six hours of sleep a night (he hopes to get to seven).
So Clifford’s routine is different, but much of his character remains the same, as Bonnell points out:
If this is a new Clifford, the players like the portion of his approach that carried over from before: Intense, demanding, thriving in the minute-by-minute decision-making that makes NBA coaching such an intellectual and emotional rush.
While he doesn’t display it in the traditional sense, Clifford is a passionate coach. It comes from obsessing over the details and spending extra hours preparing for games. It’s how he got to this point, and is one of the reasons the Hornets players respect him. With such a convincing win on Wednesday, we can only hope that Clifford’s return continues to give the Hornets a spark.
Dwight Howard, and the free throws heard round the world
Dwight Howard isn’t a good free throw shooter. He’s shot “better” from the line for portions of this season, but his percentage is just 53.2 percent. So in the rare instance when an opposing coach has their pick of who should shoot a pair of free throws, Howard is likely their first choice.
Scott Brooks got that opportunity, and Howard made him look foolish. Late in the fourth quarter of last night’s game, Michael Carter-Williams and Tim Frazier were ejected following an altercation. Since MCW was supposed to shoot free throws but could no longer, Brooks picked Howard to take them. And Howard, to the delight of the crowd, sunk them both:
Dwight gets picked to shoot free throws
Crowd goes wild, he drains both and blows a kiss to the Wizards 🤣 pic.twitter.com/rK6EEtF1J1
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) January 18, 2018
There haven’t been a lot of fun moments this season, so this ranks near the top. Howard is clearly annoyed he has to take these when the result of the game is no longer in doubt. While his poise and the blown kiss to the Wizard’s bench are fantastic, the crowd’s reaction as he steps up to take them and after making both makes this one of the greatest moments in team history. As supreme leader Doug Branson tweeted last night:
I'll never forget the night that the Hornets were up 23 and a small crowd of brave southern snow sojourners gave a standing O to Dwight Howard for hitting two meaningless free throws.
— Locked On Hornets Podcast (@LockedOnHornets) January 18, 2018
I couldn’t have said it better, Doug.
Why have the Hornets lost so many close games? Steve Clifford has an answer.
Gavin Schall from Locked on Nets schools us on NBA Draft pospects
Adam Silver on the future of NBA broadcasts
Steve Clifford reveals why he thinks the Hornets lose so many close games
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Buzzworthy: Another frustrating loss; Graham stepping up
Recapping last night’s frustrating loss; plus, how Treveon Graham is stepping up in the rotation.
The Charlotte Hornets lost another close game last night, this time at the hands of the New Orleans Pelicans. Charlotte trailed or led by one possession for much of the game, but come crunch time they couldn’t execute once again.
Dwight Howard, who continues to perform well of late, finished with a team high 22 points, and 16 rebounds. It marks the sixth straight game he’s totaled 15 or more rebounds.
He spoke with the media after the game, stressing that they cannot give up on the season:
"Guys are playing hard. We’ve just got to hold our head. You know, stay positive. The season's not over. We’ve just got to go out there and continue to fight and things will turn around." – @DwightHoward pic.twitter.com/JxjRbCmTQi
— Charlotte Hornets (@hornets) January 25, 2018
Howard has the right mindset. The Hornets are playing well, probably the best basketball since the start to the season in fact, but it is the same story over and over when it comes to close games. They are the worst team in the league in terms of winning close games, and there have been too many that have ended in a one or two possession loss.
And last night was so avoidable, but the Hornets went just 18-for-31 from the free throw line, and those misses extended beyond Howard. Twice a Hornets player was fouled attempting a 3-pointer, and in both cases the players made just 1-of-3. Given how important free throws have been for Charlotte this season, they can’t afford missing so many.
Treveon Graham “rising to the occasion”
Bench played has improved of late. Frank Kaminsky and Jeremy Lamb are leading the way, playing with more consistency on the offensive end. But Treveon Graham’s inclusion with the bench coincides with the rise in the play.
At The Hive’s Evan Dyal wrote a follow up piece on Graham earlier this week. Dyal made a case for Graham earlier in the season, and following Cody Zeller’s injury and Dwayne Bacon’s regression, Graham got his chance.
Graham is known for his defense, but Dyal points out how well he is shooting as an opportunistic scorer:
What this means is Graham only shoots when he is open, and if he is not shooting he is moving the ball. This has made Graham efficient in limited minutes, and it’s why he is third on the team in points per shot attempt according to Cleaningtheglass.com. Meaning he doesn’t shoot a lot, but when he does it’s a good shot, and it usually goes in.
Attempting just four shots a game, Graham is making 43.5 percent from the field and 44.4 percent from 3. It’s a low volume, but it fits when playing next to Kaminsky and Lamb, two players who need to shoot more in order to get into a rhythm. We’ve seen on a few occasions this where Graham won’t get touches in multiple offense possessions, only to pop up open from beyond the arc and knock down a crucial shot. It’s unlikely he will see an increased role offensive role this season, but it’s a building block for him. Assuming the Hornets re-sign him this summer, he could have a bigger role as he continues to improve his offensive game.
Buzzworthy: Walker snubbed from All-Star team
The 2018 All-Star reserves were named last night, but Hornets guard Kemba Walker was left out
Kemba Walker has played at an All-Star level, but won’t be representing the Charlotte Hornets at this year’s All-Star game. The selections for the 2018 All-Star reserves were named last night, and Walker didn’t make the list. For those curious, here are the Eastern Conference reserves:
— NBA (@NBA) January 24, 2018
I have no qualms about any of these — save for Kyle Lowry. I mean, come on. I understand the Hornets poor record was Walker’s undoing here, but Lowry has scaled his role back significantly last season. His shooting averages remain solid, but he’s averaging just 17 points per game, deferring to All-Star starter DeMar Derozan. More than anything, Lowry feels like the legacy pick. If the Hornets were closer to .500, Walker gets in, but Walker should get in regardless because as is painfully obvious this season, the Hornets struggle to play basketball when he isn’t on the floor. All-Stars represent players that are of high importance for their team (at least, that’s what I’m telling myself this very moment). Walker exemplifies that. Okay, maybe I’m being just a tad bit bias.
Batum happy with Clifford’s return
Since Steve Clifford returned last week, Nicolas Batum has played more aggressively. More shots are going up, and, overall, he looks more involved in the offense.
According to Rick Bonnell of the Charlotte Observer, it has a lot to do with the return of Steve Clifford:
That is no coincidence, Batum said Monday morning: Clifford is finding ways to get Batum, the Hornets’ best passer, more involved, particularly early in games. Sometimes that specifically means running plays featuring Batum. Other times, it just means leaning the offense more toward actions that have optimized Batum’s skill set in the past.
Batum is pleased. He says he feels in a rhythm, and he performed well in the heartbreaking loss to the Miami Heat on Saturday (which, yes, was partly his fault for turning the ball over late). Whatever your feelings about Batum, we can agree that he needs to play well, and be more involved in the offense. The ball movement increases as a result, which means better offense for the Hornets.
Clifford impressed with Kaminsky
Steve Clifford spoke well of Frank Kaminsky, stating he’s playing some of the best basketball of his career right now:
“He’s in rhythm and there is no hesitation right now. When he’s half-open, that ball is in the air. I don’t think there is anything more important for him than that. His exceptional trait, particularly for a man of his size, is to attack closeouts” when defenders over-commit to getting to him on jump shots.
Kaminsky is another polarizing figure with the Hornets. Consistency has been an issue, but as Bonnell points out, he’s scored at least 10 points in 10 of the past 13 games. That’s a mark of consistency, and it’s no wonder the bench is improving of late.