Enough is enough. The Charlotte Hornets need to make a serious change soon

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·5 min read
Rick Scuteri/AP
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If someone was asked to describe the way the Charlotte Hornets look in the first quarters lately using an emoji, several quickly come to mind.

Such as the brown one with the pointy head and googly eyes. The thumbs down. A forehead smack. Frowning face. Shoulder shrug.

Or how about the one featuring the boiling red face with a black banner across its lips. You know, as in censored. That one probably fits best because there’s nothing positive to say about the Hornets’ disturbing trend unless it’s using naughty words. The Hornets have been that bad, that frighteningly lethargic, and it happened again in Sunday night’s numbing 137-106 loss to Phoenix at Footprint Center.

In tying their lowest output in a quarter this season with a measly 15 points, Charlotte (16-16) rendered it a yawner for the final three quarters. It’s an unsightly, continuous loop that can’t be broken for some reason.

“S***, we were getting good shots in the first quarter but we were just missing,” Miles Bridges said. “We let our offense dictate our defense. It’s just something we got to get better at because that’s losing us games, letting our offense dictate our defense. We still got to come in whether we’re missing shots, making shots, we still got to come in and guard people. Or it’s going to be a long night every game.”

This dangerous approach, which has been far too commonplace, could be depicted with another emoji — a flame. Not because the Hornets are hot, burning up the opposition and leaving them crispy.

More as in they keep playing with fire, dangerously approaching burn territory. They have been outscored 115-59 in the initial quarter of the three losses on their six-game road trip, which continues Monday in Utah prior to concluding in Denver on Wednesday. That means the Hornets trailed by an average score of 38.3-19.6 leading into the start of the second quarter of all those games.

Effort, energy and accountability need to be obvious from the opening tipoff. It’s not.

“At some level, there’s got to be action behind it,” Hornets coach James Borrego said. “We’ve talked enough about this. There’s no more talking here. It’s about action. I’ve got to do something lineup-wise or they are going to have to figure that out and go create a better response in the first quarter. We know it and it’s just about action now. Period, enough talking about it. We’ve got to have some action behind it.”

But when? How much longer can the Hornets sleepwalk in the immediate seconds following the opening tip. It can’t be blamed on the absence of their top defender Cody Martin, who is likely sidelined for at least the next 10 days due to the NBA’s health and safety protocols. Martin was around for the other two first-quarter duds.

Swapping out starting center Mason Plumlee may not necessarily be the answer, either. On the occasions Nick Richards got the nod while Plumlee was out because of health and safety protocols, the second-year big man proved serviceable but also had glaring errors on defensive switches that got him yanked quickly on occasion.

Putting P.J. Washington out there at the outset gives up size to larger front lines and he struggled against Suns backup center JaVale McGee, making Washington’s insertion into the starting five a shaky solution.

Kelly Oubre could be an option.

None of that contemplation would even be necessary if the Hornets were better defending on the ball as a unit. And, as Oubre put it, be willing to call things out with sibling-style critique when warranted.

“At the end of the day, I think it goes to this: We like each other so much,” Oubre said, “that sometimes we don’t want to get on our brother when he’s down or when he makes a mistake because when you make a mistake you get down on yourself as a person. So we’ve just got to figure it out.

“We’ve just got to put our egos and our pride aside. Not saying that we do have that, but we just need to go for it. Because we just have to hold each other accountable to be the best that we can be.”

During situations akin to what the Hornets are embroiled in, frustration settles and bickering can become a thorny issue. Individuals look at someone else, suggesting they are not part of the collective problem while the team is in a tailspin. They insist that is not happening.

“Everybody on the team has a great relationship with each other and nobody on the team is selfish in any aspect,” Bridges said. “So we are not going to point any fingers. We’ve just got to figure it out as a whole and together. It’s really just our defense. We were just missing shots on offense. We’ve just got to figure out our defense. Once we figure out our defense, then we’ll be good.”

There is only one direction they can go. That’s how it is when you are ranked dead last in the league in defense.

“We’ve just got to lean on each other, continuously talking through situations that we are in,” Oubre said. “We are a young group. We are still learning. We lean on each other more than anything because none of us are perfect. We are still trying to expand our games and our basketball knowledge. So it’s important that we lean on each other even more, hold each other accountable.

“That’s the most important, get on a guy just whenever he makes a mistake respectably, but we should be able to take that constructive criticism as a unit and continue to move forward and hold each other to a higher standard if we want to get there.”