Hornets head coach Steve Clifford will return next week following a medical leave of absence.
The Charlotte Hornets need good news, and they got some last night. According to Rick Bonnell of The Charlotte Observer head coach Steve Clifford will return to the team next Tuesday:
— Rick Bonnell (@rick_bonnell) January 12, 2018
Clifford has been suffering from severe headaches this season. Bonnell states he is working with doctors to determine the best course of treatment moving forward.
Headaches are no joke, so let’s hope whatever treatment he is receiving has allowed them to lessen to a more manageable point. He will return for Tuesday’s practice, and then coach the team for the first time since December the following day against the Washington Wizards.
The Hornets, coming off a frustrating loss to the Dallas Mavericks, will hopefully get a boost from this news. They’ll need any good vibes they can find.
But most importantly, it’s good to hear Clifford is well enough to return. The lack of news surrounding his health was concerning. While it’s obvious he wanted his privacy respected, not knowing what was wrong made it inevitable to consider the worst. Hopefully, his health continues to improve as the season goes on.
Hornets hope to rebound against the Jazz
The Hornets host the Utah Jazz tonight. It’s a matchup of two teams under performing for different reasons. In Utah’s case, it stems for an injury to Rudy Gobert. He’s been out since November 11th, and won’t return until later this month. At 17-24, the Jazz were hoping to compete for a playoff spot, but that may prove difficult even when Gobert returns.
But despite the poor season, they have reason for hope in rookie guard Donovan Mitchell. He’s a legitimate rookie of the year candidate that leads the Jazz in scoring. His usage is off the charts, way higher than it should be for any rookie, but he’s near unstoppable attacking the rim, making over 64 percent of his shots from within three feet. Outside of that, however, he’s easier to contain. If Charlotte can make it difficult for him at the rim, he may struggle to score.
But the Hornets will have to be mindful of Rodney Hood’s perimeter game. Overall, he isn’t an efficient shooter, but at 38 percent from deep he’s exactly the kind of player that could light the Hornets up.
Past Mitchell and Hood, the Jazz don’t have a lot of scorers. They are one of the lowest scoring teams in the NBA, which the Hornets can take advantage of if they lock down defensively. (So please Hornets, no more 39 point quarters, okay?)
Despite Wednesday’s loss, I still have faith the Hornets can pull this one out. Maybe I’m not ready to give up on this team, but the Jazz are a beatable team right now. If players other than Kemba Walker can step up, tonight should end well.
Why have the Hornets lost so many close games? Steve Clifford has an answer.
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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.