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Hornets/Heat: And Then There Were Three (Games)

Apr 26, 2016 -- 8:55pm

Steve Clifford lashed out at a reporter after losing Game 2 for suggesting he should go with a bigger lineup to match the Heat’s size. Ironically that was the same game Nic Batum went down with an ankle injury forcing Clifford to make an adjustment that changed the trajectory of the series.

Charlotte returned from Miami down 0-2 in the series, with an injured Batum and question marks regarding what changes Clifford could make that would avoid his team being swept for the second time in three years in postseason play.

With the Heat playing out of their mind in combination with Batum not being available for Games 3 and 4, I though the series was over, but boy I was wrong.

In the playoffs you need you stars to shine bright and Kemba Walker refused to let his team lose at home finishing with 34 points, and making big shot after big shot Monday night.

After drawing an offensive foul on Dwyane Wade, Walker and Courtney Lee had a moment only two teammates could share. With the arena in pandemonium Lee and Walker were face to face, with Lee talking to Walker as a big brother empowering his little brother.

“I was letting him know this was his moment,” said Lee. “You’ve worked hard all year, now it’s time for you to takeover this game.”

On the next possession Walker drained a 26-foot 3-pointer; that was his seventh point in the process of scoring 11-straight in the fourth quarter.

Charlotte did what they were supposed to do, protect their home floor. Time Warner Cable Arena has been a source of strength for the Hornets all season long, 30 of their 48 regular season wins came on their home floor.

Now we’re here, the Hornets have returned to South Beach tied 2-2 with the opportunity tonight to take a 3-2 series lead.

In order for the Charlotte to advance to the next round, they’ll need to win two of the next three, with the toughest challenge of winning a game on the road. In order words meaning, the defense they played at home will need to be the same if not better in Miami.

“We have to find a way to carry this defense, on the road which we couldn’t do in the first two games,” said Clifford.

I’ve heard on multiple occasions the series starts when someone can steal a victory on the road.

Could the series start tonight?

Clifford said in his conference call Tuesday afternoon that they’ll be looking to promote more ball movement in other ways than just post ups and pick-and-rolls, more of the way they played all year. He said it won’t be easy, but they think they have a way to move the Heat's defense around a little bit.

Erik Spolestra’s ball club hasn’t allowed Charlotte to consistently knock down 3-pointers, and I don’t see that changing now.

Defense travels when nothing else does.

The Hornets can make me look like a smart man if they can win tonight, I picked the Hornets in six, but that can only happen if they can steal this one on the road.

By no stretch of the imagination is Charlotte better without Batum, but if you would have told me the Hornets would have tied the series without him I would have laughed, possibly to the point of stomach pain.

What’s been so impressive about this turnaround is that the Heat are still continuing to knock down 3-pointers, and the Hornets still can’t buy a triple, yet they’re still finding ways to win. The difference inside of TWC Arena was Charlotte controlling the paint, something that didn’t occur in Miami.

After being injured, suspended and accepting his role to come off the bench, Al Jefferson has reemerged in the starting lineup with his rookie counterpart Frank Kaminsky playing power forward.

Since going with the bigger lineup the Hornets were able to protect their homecourt and finally started playing defense. In Games 1 and 2 Charlotte allowed a combined 238 points, over the last two games they prevented Miami from breaking 100 in each contest.

If Batum would have never gotten hurt, Clifford might not have made the change to a bigger lineup.

Just let that sink in for me for a minute.

Before you run through the hills celebrating, don’t get too ahead of yourself. Understand that the Heat team that took in the floor in Games 3 and 4 will not be the same team you witness tonight, and the Hornets know that.

I asked Marvin Williams what word he would use to describe what’ll take to get the victory; his response “difficult.” “It’s not going to be easy, but it can be done,” said Williams. “Those guys are going to be ready to play, they’re back on their homecourt, where they made a ton of shots, but I think we can get it done.”

With the series tied at 2-2 going into tonight’s matchup, this is what many figured the series would look like, not the lopsided results of Games 1 and 2.


Justin Thomas

ESPN 730 Charlotte Hornets Reporter and Blogger

Twitter:  @JTyree704

Facebook:  Facebook.com/SportsFromMyEyes

The Hornets Are Playoff Bound

Apr 03, 2016 -- 8:30pm

For the past two seasons, I’ve referred to the Hornets as the NBA’s rollercoaster filled with highs, lows and surprise turns, but that is no longer the case.

Since Jan. 22nd this team moved from 12th to third in the Eastern Conference.

Charlotte is going to the playoffs for the second time in three seasons under head coach Steve Clifford.

“To me the biggest goal is to make the playoffs,” said Clifford. “If you’re Cleveland for insistence your goal should be to be the top seed. When you’re a team like ours your goal is to make the playoffs.”

The Hornets are playing good basketball at the right time of year. Since Feb. 1st Charlotte is 21-7 that’s the best record in the Eastern Conference and third in the NBA. Clifford is putting together one hell of a campaign for Coach of the Year.

Nic Batum is showing why the Hornets will have to offer him a max-deal, Kemba Walker is playing at a high level and the nucleus of this team is healthy.

This team has remained confident, when one or two guys went down they continued to scrap and claw, they never wavered. Jeremy Lin's shooting woes are gone and Jeremy Lamb found his way back in the lineup after having time to "regroup", according to Clifford.

“They say the benchmark in the NBA is if you can win 30 at home and 20 on the road,” Clifford said following Friday night’s win over Philadelphia.

Charlotte is inching close to 30 home wins with 28 on the season and 16 road wins. The Hornets will play two more games inside of Time Warner Cable Arena and seven on the road to end the season.

There was a one point during the season Charlotte was on a seven-game losing streak and not playing a lick of defense. Now, they’re tied for sixth in defensive efficiency with the opportunity to win 50 games.

Let that sink in for a second.

Charlotte is top-10 in both offensive and defensive efficiency.

Going to the playoffs is a step in the right direction, but a playoff berth doesn’t mean this team is satisfied.

“It’s an accomplishment, but I don’t think you should sell yourself short for it,” Marvin Williams said after practice on Friday. “Once you qualify for the playoffs that’s the next step, kind of enjoy it for the night but continue to get better and keep working for the ultimate goal.”

If Charlotte was fortunate enough to be Golden State or Cleveland they could rest, but that’s not the case for the Hornets.

The next objective is playing for a top-four seed. Clifford knows the importance of having home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs. Teams who have home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs win 75 percent of the time.

Home-court advantage usually equates to advancing to the conference semifinals. Outside of Cleveland anybody can be beat in the Eastern Conference, but judging by that percentage it sure would be nice for Charlotte to get one of those top-four seeds if they plan on advancing.

Following the loss to Cleveland Sunday afternoon the Hornets are now sixth, but I have a feeling the seedings will change multiple times before the season ends.


Justin Thomas

ESPN 730 Charlotte Hornets Reporter and Blogger

Twitter:  @JTyree704

Facebook:  Facebook.com/SportsFromMyEyes 

Charlotte's Team Bond

Mar 15, 2016 -- 7:39pm

There are many reasons to point to why the Charlotte Hornets are playing such good basketball at the moment. You can point to the upgrade in talent on the roster, you can even downplay their success by saying they play in the Eastern Conference, but neither are the sole reasons for why Charlotte is having their best season in a long time.

We can go back and forth on what is the driving force behind this team, but what we can agree on is one of the reasons for success is the fact that guys are playing for each other and not individual accolades.

You can’t say that about every team in the NBA.

Monday night against Dallas, Nic Batum hit the first 3-pointer of the game for the Hornets at the 8:18 mark in the first quarter, a meaningless bucket to start the game. Jeremy Lamb, Troy Daniels and Jorge Gutierrez all stood up celebrating as if it were a crucial bucket in the fourth quarter.

The celebration isn't because the points came on a fancy Kemba Walker crossover, or a Cody Zeller putback dunk that's a SportsCenter Top 10, its routine. When there's a made basket, appreciation is shown.

What makes this bond of teammates special is that it extends off the floor also; it’s deeper than basketball and more than defensive stops and free-throws.

“This by far is the most together team off the court that I’ve been a part of,” Marvin Williams said. “When we go out of town you’ll catch four, five or six guys getting together for a poker game or guys going out to dinner, or 10 guys at Bible Study something that Jeremy Lin brought to the team.”

If you’ve ever been in an uncomfortable working situation as far as the environment or the people you work with, you understand the importance of enjoying the people you work with.

The Charlotte Hornets aren’t the circus that is the Sacramento Kings.

Courtney Lee, who was acquired from Memphis in a trade, was assured by Memphis’ front office that he wasn’t going to be traded. Now that he’s here, Lee is enjoying his time as a Hornet.

“If I would have known I was getting traded to this team, with these character guys in the locker room, it wouldn’t have fazed me at all,” Lee told me in an interview Tuesday afternoon. “When you see your best player on the team getting up and cheering for you when you make a play, makes you want to do the same for him, it’s definitely contagious.”

This team isn’t a group of guys who’ve played together for five or six plus years, Williams is in his second season year, Lin is in his first, and Lee is on an expiring contract.

A happy work environment leads to quality to performances, and the Hornets are a clear display of that.

When watching a Charlotte game look at the bench after they score, there’s at least two teammates standing up and clapping. There’s a genuine happiness with this team that loves to see their running mates succeed.

All is well when guys are winning and receiving playing time right?

Majority vote will say yes, but one usual in the Hornets’ rotation didn’t see a minute of action Monday night, and that didn’t stop him from cheering.

Jeremy Lamb had his usual 15 minutes of playing time given to Daniels.

“We care about each other and it shows on the court, “Daniels said. “When somebody has a great game, we’re happy for them, it’s never “I need I need”, I got a lot of minutes yesterday and Jeremy (Lamb) didn’t play and he was still cheering me on. That’s just that type of team and players we have, and it’s working our great for us.”

Charlotte is currently sixth in the Eastern Conference and half a game behind Atlanta for fifth. It’s uncertain how high or low the Hornets will go in the standings with 16 games remaining on the regular season schedule, but one thing that won’t be forgotten will be the relationships and bonds formed over the course of this season.


Justin Thomas

ESPN 730 Charlotte Hornets Reporter and Blogger

Twitter:  @JTyree704

Facebook:  Facebook.com/SportsFromMyEyes 

Charlotte Adds Courtney Lee

Feb 16, 2016 -- 8:48pm

The Charlotte Hornets were involved in a three-team, multiplayer deal, that resulted in acquiring Courtney Lee from Memphis, and shipping P.J. Hairston with two second-round picks to Memphis and point guard Brian Roberts going to Miami.

The two second-round picks being sent to Memphis will be in 2018 and the 2019 pick was owed from the Brooklyn Nets.

With the news of Michael-Kidd Gilchrist being sidelined for the remainder of the season due to re-tearing the labrum in his right shoulder, this was a solid signing by Hornets’ General Manager Rich Cho too add another defender.

What makes this a solid signing is that Lee is on an expiring contract. Meaning, Lee can have a solid remainder of the season and won’t be on the books when the season is over.

At 27-26 sitting eighth in the Eastern Conference, there are 29 games remaining on Hornets’ schedule. The move for Lee screams Charlotte is committing to making a strong push to return to the playoffs for the second time in three years.

Four claps for Rich Cho.

Not only did Cho add a veteran wing that is strong on the defensive end, but he also relieved Hairston of his duties. The Hornets will lose a solid third-string backup point guard in Roberts, but with the season Jeremy Lin is having, it never hurts to get rid of an expiring contract.

The 6-foot-5 200 pound wing out of Western Kentucky is averaging 10 points on 46 percent shooting from the field. Lee has three elements to his game that coach Steve Clifford will enjoy: defense, 3-point shooting and length.

Lee is a better defender and more consistent 3-point shooter than Hairston, all signs of an upgrade for Charlotte. Lee is shooting 38 percent from beyond the arch, compared to Hairston’s 31 percent.

With Al Jefferson returning, the addition of Lee and Nic Batum finally back to 100 percent, the opportunity for the Hornets to make the playoffs is on the table.

In a perfect world Charlotte would love for Jefferson and Lee to bring their “A-Game”, both guys are playing for contracts, make the playoffs and be able to let both guys walk away to test the free-agent market.

You can usually expect great effort from guys who are auditioning for teams in contract seasons, hopefully the Hornets will be able to get what they’re looking for.

As for more moves to be made before Thursday afternoon’s trade deadline, Cho said, “We aren’t necessarily done.”


Justin Thomas

ESPN 730 Charlotte Hornets Reporter and Blogger

Twitter: @JTyree704

Facebook: Facebook.com/SportsFromMyEyes 

Things Are Looking Up For Charlotte

Feb 09, 2016 -- 8:01pm

Outside of the Carolina Panthers coming up short in Super Bowl 50, things are looking up for that team that plays basketball inside of Time Warner Cable Arena.

Since Michael Kidd-Gilchrist’s return to the lineup, Charlotte is 4-2 and back to a .500 winning percentage at 26-26.

We’re halfway to the finish line in regards to the regular season and the Charlotte Hornets are just now starting to get healthy. In the month of January, Nic Batum, Cody Zeller, Jeremy Lin and Jeremy Lamb missed multiple games. At one point in January, the Hornets were without four of their top six players in their lineup and somehow managed to keep afloat. We're in February now, MKG is back in the lineup to pair with Batum and there’s a confidence inside the locker room that they’ll make a strong push at the playoffs coming out of the All-Star break.

They aren’t quite 100 percent healthy just yet, they're missing one more body needed to be at full strength.

That missing body is Al Jefferson.

Jefferson had surgery to address a tear in the lateral meniscus of his right knee.

“He would give us one of the elite low-post scorers in this league,” coach Steve Clifford addressing the media before Monday’s game against Chicago. “He’s working hard. I think his knee looks stronger than it has all year. And now it’s just a question of the nature of his injury as it’s hard to get a condition level where he is ready to play. He’s working hard and hopefully he will be back soon.”

If what Clifford says is true, I’ll go on the record now and say Charlotte will make the playoffs if Jefferson can return and play at a high level.

“I’ll be honest, even with Mike [Kidd-Gilchrist], you know as you saw, what I planned and what happened were two entirely different things,” said Clifford.” I’m not sure we’ll know until we see him in practice. Like when we come back from the All-Star break, we’ll have a couple days of practice where we will play a lot of contact, up and down the floor, and we can get a better gauge for where he is at.”

The Hornets have yet to play a basketball game with the starting lineup they planned on carrying them to the playoffs in Kemba Walker, Batum, MKG, Zeller and Jefferson and we’re 52 games into the season.

Just think about that for a second.

That leaves Charlotte with 30 games left on the schedule and that’s exactly when Clifford starts to check the standings to see where his team stands.

17 of their final 30 games are on the road.

What’s the importance?

The Hornets are 7-17 outside of TWC Arena. This means in order for them to make the playoffs they’ll have to win some games on the road, something they’ve struggled to do all season.

Excuses are invalid at this point of the season.

Good teams find ways to win on the road and Charlotte doesn’t have many victories in the win column when it comes to taking their act on the road.

In order for Charlotte to keep Batum on the roster, this team including Clifford will have to close the season strong resulting in a playoff appearance. The number to reach is 15 wins, if the Hornets can go .500 to end the season, that should be enough to secure a playoff seed in the Eastern Conference.

When I say a playoff appearance I don’t mean getting swept like the last time this franchise made a playoff appearance in 2013, I mean actually competing.

On paper this is a playoff caliber team, but looking good on paper has never resulted in a win.

It is safe to assume Jefferson will elevate this team’s performance right?

We’ll find out sooner rather than later, the goal of 15 begins tonight in Indiana. The road to the playoffs begins now.


Justin Thomas

ESPN 730 Charlotte Hornets Reporter and Blogger

Twitter:  @JTyree704

Facebook:  Facebok.com/SportsFromMyEyes 

Jon Davis believed before anyone else did

Jan 27, 2016 -- 1:54pm

On April 23 of last year a bond was formed, a bond between coach and player that started a new era in Charlotte basketball. Freshman guard Jon Davis was Mark Price’s first acquisition as a head coach for the 49ers. The move is proving to be mutually beneficial for both sides as Davis continues to shine on a young and talented team with enormous potential.

“He will always be that first recruit, always be special in my mind,” said Price. “He took a chance on me and I took a chance on him. We started this thing together and when we get the program to where we want it to be we can both look back and take great pride in that.”

Davis played out his high school career at Clinton Christian in upper Maryland. In 2014, as a senior, he averaged 18 point and 4 assists per contest while earning Conference player of the year and Conference tournament MVP honors. After receiving a plethora of collegiate offers, Davis chose to take his talents to DePaul University. A school that offered him something no other school would at the time; playing time in his first year.

“I had maybe 10 offers from a lot of, so called, major schools like ACC, Big Ten, stuff like that but they all wanted me for 2015. DePaul wanted me for 2014 and at first I didn’t want to do the prep so I thought just take what I can get.”

Davis had a close relationship with an assistant coach from DePaul, which weighed heavily on his decision to commit there. Fate intervened when the same coach was fired. Davis immediately withdrew his decision and landed at Hargrave military prep under decorated head coach A.W Hamilton, who also attended the prep school as a student.

“The fact that he also went to Hargrave he knows the everyday struggle of waking up at six, the daily hassles, going to practice and he’s just a great coach,” said Davis.

So how exactly did Davis come across Charlotte’s radar? Luckily, current assistant coach, Chris Ferguson, spent his last eight years on the coaching staff of Oklahoma State where Davis was scouted a few years back. Ferguson, being in his first year at Charlotte as well, relayed the information to coach Price who then gathered the entire coaching staff to see Davis workout at Hargrave.

“What really got me was the fact that all four of them came to see me workout in Virginia about 10 miles north of Danville, which is in the middle of nowhere,” said Davis who was moved by the effort of the Charlotte coaching staff. “I don’t think any of them ever saw me even play in a game and they offered me a scholarship. That just shows the confidence they had in me.”

Confidence has since grown in the freshman point guard as Price continues to trust Davis with more minutes and a larger role in the 49er offense. Extended play has directly correlated to heightened production as well as the team’s overall success.

Davis just received his second Conference USA Freshman of the Week award following a two game streak where he averaged a staggering 22-points and 6.5 assists per game. He registered 72 minutes of play while shooting 77.3 percent from the field and 72.7 percent from beyond the arc. Davis continues to lace up when the lights shine brightest, currently heading the team in C-USA play for both points and assists, averaging 16.4 points and 5.4 assists per game.

Settling into the point guard role didn’t happen over night for Davis but it hasn’t exactly been a lifelong position for the 6’2 guard either.

“I didn’t start playing point guard, honestly, until last year at Hargrave. That’s the first time I had true point guard responsibilities where I had to run a team,” said Davis. “You got to make sure everyone else is getting involved, you got to worry about defense, you got to set everything up and you also have to worry about doing stuff for yourself. A successful point guard can score the ball, assist, and have great efficiency.”

It also helps that Davis is learning the role from a legend in the basketball community who played point guard through out his 12 year NBA tenure. No doubt Price and Davis will always share that bond for the game, which in turn creates a greater sense of team chemistry and pays dividends on the court. 

“To jump on board first and say hey coach I want to come play for you and obviously playing the position that I played as a player. Our relationship that way as well, we kinda have that bond with each other,” said Price as he cracked a smile.

As far as the future of the Charlotte 49ers, the mood around the locker room is trending upward. Everyone is buying into the system and excited to see what lies ahead. Davis is not the only freshman sporting impressive numbers this year. Guard Andrien White is coming off a 30-point performance in the win over Marshall and is currently second on the team for points per game. Also, in recent weeks, Curran Scott has jumped in the action, averaging 21 points over the last three weeks.

The young talent on this team bodes for success in this program’s near future and Davis would agree. “As far as me, Andrien and Curran, we’ve done a great job of getting better since we came here and I think were all level headed kids who love playing basketball and want to get better.”


TJ Sachs

ESPN 730

Twitter: @tsachs22




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