About 45 minutes after the Charlotte Hornets beat the Washington Wizards, forward Marvin Williams duck-walked gingerly out of the home locker room at Spectrum Center.
He earned that old-man gait.
He had just scored 30 points, three short of matching his career high. He grabbed seven rebounds. He made the sort of spectacular “Get butts out of seats” dunk Friday that he’s said in the past he’s only good for once a season 14 years into his NBA career.
Williams didn’t single-handedly beat the Wizards 112-111, but without him the Hornets would have assuredly lost a sixth consecutive home game. He’s a leader, an organizer and bottom-liner.
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Post-game, he was a true believer in the Hornets’ dicey playoff chances.
“We’ve let a few slip away in the past, but like I’ve said, we’re still looking forward,” Williams said. “Just got to stay positive, we’ve got a lot to play for. Seventeen is a lot of games.
“It’s not 60 games, it’s not 50 games, but in 17 games anything can happen.”
The Hornets and Orlando Magic are chasing the Miami Heat for that last playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. The Heat is a game ahead, but would lose a tiebreaker with the Hornets. If the Hornets beat the Magic in the final regular-season game, Orlando would also lose a tiebreaker to Charlotte.
That’s the upside to the 30-35 Hornets’ chances. The downside is they have a brutal schedule the rest of the way. They play their next four on the road starting Saturday in Milwaukee against a Bucks team with the best record in the NBA. If the Hornets manage to get into the playoffs, it’s more than likely they would play the Bucks in the 1-versus-8 match-up.
Some fans have already thrown up their hands, saying the Hornets should shut it down, shift playing time from veterans to the young guys and mini-tank for a few extra chances in a weighted draft lottery.
The Hornets aren’t functioning that way. Yes, there were unexpected rotation shifts Friday, particularly Dwayne Bacon going from Greensboro Swarm assignee to second-half Hornets starter. But that was coach James Borrego’s pushing nearly every button, looking for a way to end this home losing streak.
Borrego has been improvisational all season with his player groups, but this was beyond his previous mode of operation: He brought in veteran forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist early after not using MKG at all the prior three games. Kidd-Gilchrist suffered a left knee strain and Borrego responded by going that much further outside his prior rotation, using Bacon.
Bacon hadn’t been on the active roster in 12 of his prior 14 games. Friday, he played 25 minutes — his most since mid-November — and replaced rookie Miles Bridges as the second-half starter at small forward. Borrego indicated post-game the Wizards’ small lineups gave him cause to play Bridges more at power forward Friday, hence the shift.
Bacon did well, scoring 10 points and playing some physical defense.
“He’s shown he has the potential to be a two-way guy (equivalently effective on offense and defense) for us,” Borrego said of Bacon. “He’s done a great job staying after it (in Greensboro), continuing to develop, and he was ready for the moment.”
Borrego said recently he wanted to shorten the rotation, but Friday was just the opposite: The only active players who didn’t get into the game were guards Malik Monk and Shelvin Mack. Mack was no surprise — he’s the emergency third point guard — but Friday’s win is now the fourth consecutive game Monk, the 11th overall pick in 2017, didn’t play by coach’s decision.
Grand old man
Williams tied a career high in 3s made with seven (on 10 attempts). He reinvented himself as a long-range shooter while with the Utah Jazz, but he says he truly refined that element of his game as a Hornet, working with then-head coach Steve Clifford and then-assistant Pat Delaney.
Those coaches advised Williams to spend most of his on-court work in the summer outside the 3-point line because the game has so evolving toward everyone from point guards to centers needing to be long-range threats. Williams’ range creates spacing for point guard Kemba Walker to operate off the dribble.
Walker didn’t have anything like his “A” game Friday, shooting 6-of-19 from the field and 1-of-9 from 3-point range.
Williams got a bit fiery Wednesday post-game, following a home loss to the Miami Heat, saying he didn’t like what he perceived as a negative line of media questions.
Friday, he changed the conversation.
“Every night we just have to come and focus, play with a lot of energy,” Williams said.
“Then see where the chips fall in April.”