Charlotte Hornets

Charlotte Hornets’ bench had nothing in reserve Saturday

Steve Clifford breaks down Hornets' loss to Clippers

Charlotte Hornets coach Steve Clifford criticizes himself after Saturday's loss to the Los Angeles Clippers.
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Charlotte Hornets coach Steve Clifford criticizes himself after Saturday's loss to the Los Angeles Clippers.

This certainly wasn’t an isolated example of the problem, but it was a particularly illustrative one for the Charlotte Hornets.

The bench does not inspire great confidence this season.

The reserves were a huge plus in a 48-victory season in 2015-16. That was when Jeremy Lin and Al Jefferson offered so much scoring punch. Once the Hornets made the trade with Memphis for Courtney Lee, there was depth and versatility and precision.

Compare all that to Saturday’s 107-102 home loss to the Los Angeles Clippers. I have misgivings about the NBA’s plus-minus statistic as an end-all/be-all description of how an individual player performed. But Saturday, every Hornets reserve was a minus (in other words the team had a deficit of points when they played) and every Clippers reserve was a plus (or in Alan Anderson’s case, a push at zero).

Coincidence? I don’t think so. Neither did Clippers coach Doc Rivers.

Hornets coach Steve Clifford criticized himself Saturday, saying he has to do a better job of getting his team to play with discipline. I agree.

"The bench, they all had pluses," Rivers noted post-game. "I thought in the second quarter they were phenomenal and in the third quarter, the beginning of the fourth, they came in and gave us another stretch."

Keep in mind the 33-21 Clippers have gone through more than a little adversity this season due to injury. They were without Blake Griffin for a long stretch and are now without superstar point guard Chris Paul, who has a torn ligament in his left thumb.

In reaction to Paul’s injury, Rivers has moved his son, former Duke star Austin, into the starting lineup. That worked out great Saturday, with the younger Rivers burning the Hornets for 18 points and making four of his six 3-point attempts.

If Saturday is any example, moving Rivers into a starting spot didn’t make the Clippers’ bench miss a beat. Five reserves shot a combined 8-of-17 from 3-point range. The Clippers bench outscored its Hornets counterpart 47-30.

Hornets coach Steve Clifford criticized himself Saturday, saying he has to do a better job of getting his team to play with discipline. I agree. This group, for whatever reason, doesn’t stick to the script as often as its recent predecessors, particularly in defensive coverages.

Everyone knew going into the season the bench had been diminished. It was unavoidable, because the Hornets simply couldn’t afford to re-sign Jeremy Lin, Al Jefferson or Courtney Lee, after locking down Nic Batum and Marvin Williams.

But this is just as much about the options on the roster. Everyone knew going into the season the bench had been diminished. It was unavoidable, because this team simply couldn’t afford to re-sign Lin, Jefferson or Lee, after locking down Nic Batum (25 points, eight assists and six rebounds Saturday) and Marvin Williams.

What they ended up with is somewhat shaky, additionally so with reserve point guard Ramon Sessions out four to six weeks following knee surgery.

With Frank Kaminsky moving up to the starting lineup, replacing a re-injured Cody Zeller, the only backup who looked dynamic Saturday was Marco Belinelli (17 points off 7-of-14 shooting). Miles Plumlee still needs to get into game shape (his 12 minutes were a minus-17) and Clifford used point guard Brian Roberts only six minutes Saturday.

Clifford said post-game it’s not a lack of faith in Roberts, but rather how important playing Kemba Walker has become.

No doubt Walker is the Hornets’ best player, and by a significant margin. But he needs help and looks wiped out with two games left until All-Star break.

You have to wonder if this roster has the goods right now. At 24-30, they will need a great final push, facing a slew of tough road games the rest of this month.

Rick Bonnell: 704-358-5129, @rick_bonnell

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