Defense betrays Hornets again in rough loss to LA Clippers

Los Angeles Clippers guard Paul George (13) blocks the shot and wins the ball from Charlotte Hornets guard LaMelo Ball (1) during the second half of an NBA basketball game in Los Angeles on Wednesday, Dec. 21, 2022. (AP Photo/Kyusung Gong)

Los Angeles Clippers guard Paul George (13) blocks the shot and wins the ball from Charlotte Hornets guard LaMelo Ball (1) during the second half of an NBA basketball game in Los Angeles on Wednesday, Dec. 21, 2022. (AP Photo/Kyusung Gong)


An in-arena camera popped Anthony Anderson up on the screens above the court, giving patrons an opportunity to show the actor a little love.

Simi Lui, known most recently for playing Shang-Chi in the Marvel’s film “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings,” got a bit of facetime, too. Even D.J. Mustard, a hip hop super producer and architect of some of the genre’s funkiest bass-thumping tunes, had his mug flashed up on the large octagon-shaped video board.

That was the extent of the suspense inside Arena on Wednesday night.

Other than wondering what celebrities were dotting the stands and whether free chicken nuggets would be in their future, there was zero uncertainty for the paying customers. That’s because the Charlotte Hornets got thoroughly outclassed from the opening tip-off in a 126-105 loss to the LA Clippers, falling behind by as many as 36 points in the first half until making it somewhat respectable late.

“We didn’t play well,” coach Steve Clifford said. “We didn’t run back on defense. The offense was one thing. We’ve got to do those other things. We fouled haphazardly. So, listen, if you are going to get better you have to do the things … We did some good things in the second half. Got to start the game better.”

Call it a snapshot of a season that’s slowly getting away from the Hornets, and another indicator of a huge gap in talent, continuity – and health. The same concerns that have played prominent roles in nearly all of their two dozen losses also bubbled up against the Clippers, including defense that can be described as lackadaisical at best.

A nonexistent effort around the 3-point line spurred the unlikeliest of outcomes: Nic Batum drained as many 3-pointers as the Hornets (8-24) mustered as a unit until Charlotte hit two meaningless shots beyond the arc late. Batum had the Clippers’ public address announcer speaking French every time he drilled one, and his 11-for-16 showing beyond the 3-point arc in two games against his old team this season highlights the problems the Hornets are having guarding from deep.

The Hornets are typically left scrambling to get to the open man, sometimes flying near them too late to even affect the shot. Their breakdowns are frequent and the Clippers took full advantage, sinking as many 3-pointers in the first half as the Hornets’ total made field goals through the initial two quarters.

“The nights when we’ve got our defense set we’ve been good,” Clifford said. “When we don’t like tonight, we’re in trouble.”

In part because the Hornets don’t deliver a consistent response, especially during those occasions when they fall behind early. And that’s a recurring thing.

According to Statmuse, the Hornets’ average of 26.3 first-quarter points ranks dead last. By comparison, Denver leads the league at 31.8.

Finding a solution to cure those ills is a necessity for the Hornets.

“It just takes us to settle down, to huddle up and kind of get on the same page,” Kelly Oubre said. “I feel like it’s still a process with us playing with new people every night, new rotations. You know kind of all just getting into that same camaraderie on the court and playing with the same game plan.”

With their revolving door of injuries, the Hornets may have to get used to the constant influx surrounding their various lineup combinations. Their proposed starting five has logged a whopping grand total of five minutes on the floor together, and those all came in the first half of Sunday’s loss in Denver until Terry Rozier suffered a right hip contusion that’s kept him out of the last games.

Any enthusiasm about finally having their game-opening unit intact got zapped right at the outset of the Hornets’ six-game, 11-day road trip through three states. Maybe they can draw some inspiration from the Clippers given LA hadn’t been whole since opening week until Wednesday.

Injuries date back to training camp in September for the Hornets and they’re still playing catchup. Another failed outing against a good team proved there’s a few steps left. But it feels more like leaps at this point.

“Teams have been together and we are kind of getting used to each other with some of those lineups,” said LaMelo Ball, who posted his seventh career triple-double and tied Anthony Mason for first on the franchise’s all-time list in that category. “I guess it’s just a little different, but you’ve got to hoop.”

Roderick Boone joined the Observer in September 2021 to cover the Charlotte Hornets and NBA. In his more than two decades of writing about the world of sports, he’s chronicled everything from high school rodeo to a major league baseball no-hitter to the Super Bowl to the Finals. The Long Island native has deep North Carolina roots and enjoys watching “The Fresh Prince of Bel Air” endlessly.
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