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Charlotte's Not So Hot Start

Nov 20, 2014 -- 11:06am

Lance Stephenson’s return to Indiana didn’t go exactly as planned, ending with a Solomon Hill put-back as time expired giving the Pacers the edge over Charlotte 88-86, but neither has the start of the season for the Hornets gone as planned.

Late game execution has plagued coach Steve Clifford’s ball club.

Through 12 games the Hornets just have not played good basketball.

Of the four wins they do have the best one came against Miami when they played four quarters of basketball, ending a three-game losing streak.

Injuries have played a role in Charlotte’s inconsistent play, having Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Gary Neal miss time in varies games.

18 games in 32 days doesn’t help when you have new additions and a lack of practice time.

Despite those injuries and tough slate of games, you just can’t shoot yourself in the foot when you aren’t one of the more “talented” teams in the league. In two losses against New York and Portland, Charlotte turned the ball over for a combined 13 times in the fourth quarter, that’s something you just can’t do. They also had a chance to beat Memphis, but in two late game possessions it was evident they forgot to play defense failing to secure a win.

Al Jefferson has played well thus far, but his counterparts in Kemba Walker and Lance Stephenson have struggled to find some consistency.

In their eight losses, four could have been won in the fourth quarter, as for the other four losses those just weren’t competitive.

The Hornets rank in the bottom half of the league in points scored, points allowed rebounds and assists per game. That top-five defense that was on displayed last season has yet to come into fruition.

Good teams find ways to win the 50/50 games second-year head coach Clifford and his Hornets are still in the process of learning how to win games.

Of Charlotte’s six upcoming games, one is a possible win and even that one isn’t guaranteed. The Hornets welcome Orlando in a winnable game, but after that Charlotte goes to Miami (whom they beat earlier in the year) then they welcome the Los Angeles Clippers, Portland and Golden State come to Time Warner Cable Arena . After that four-game stretch, they get Atlanta who they also beat in double-overtime, we’ll see if they steal a victory on the road, but that doesn’t look so promising with Charlotte being 1-6 on the road.

It’s still too early to dive for the panic button, but if something doesn’t change for the better the Hornets could find themselves in a familiar position as the Bobcats, searching for wins.

 

Justin Thomas

ESPN 730 Charlotte Hornets Reporter and Blogger

Twitter:  @JTyree704

Facebook:  Facebook.com/SportsFromMyEyes

Clifford's Recipe

Nov 07, 2014 -- 10:48am

If you know anything about Charlotte Hornets head coach Steve Clifford, you know of his recipe for success.

“We’ll have to win by rebounding, defending and being smart,” that has been Clifford’s recipe since becoming the Hornets head coach in the summer of 2013.

Through five games the Hornets are 2-3.

In Charlotte’s two victories against Milwaukee and Miami, the Hornets won the rebounding and assist battle, not folding in crunch time when the game could go either way.

The Hornets had to rally from 24 down in the third quarter to win in overtime to beat Milwaukee, but in that rally they won both the rebounding and assist battle, recording 50 rebounds, that's been was their best rebounding game on the season.

Against Miami, Charlotte played their best game through five games, winning the rebounding and assist battle. The fourth ranked defense in the NBA showed up, only giving 89 points to good Miami Heat team. Cody Zeller and PJ Hairston provided a spark off the bench combing for 20 points 10 assists.

After the win Walker, who played a very efficient game of 18 points on five-of-six shooting and seven assists wasn’t too high nor low following the victory.

“We have a lot of potential on this team, we just haven’t been showing it,” was Walker’s comments on losing the three-game losing skid.

In Charlotte’s three losses against Memphis, New York and New Orleans, the Hornets won either the rebounding or assist battle, or lost both. Not only did they not commit to both rebounding and assists, but down the stretch they also missed the message of playing smart.

 “What’s frustrating is if we defend in the last three minutes we win the game,” were the words of Clifford following the loss to Memphis.

In the post-game press conference following the defeat to Memphis, I’ve never witnessed Clifford so visibly frustrated with his team.

When Charlotte traveled to Madison Square Garden to face the Knicks, the message of being smart didn’t travel. Walker had a chance to send the game into overtime missing a 16-foot jumper, but when you commit seven turnovers in the fourth quarter, you can’t expect to win.

The New Orleans game wasn’t a good one to say the least. The Hornets lost both the rebounding and assist battle, allowing Austin River to score 12 points. Rivers easy layups contributed to the 48 points in the paint Charlotte allowed, that tells you everything you need to know about how that night went.

Clifford’s message continues to grow legs, despite being five games into a long 82-game NBA season.

The Hornets welcome the Hawks tonight, let's see if they can add some consistency, and stick to Clifford's Recipe.

 

Justin Thomas

ESPN 730 Charlotte Hornets Reporter and Blogger

Twitter:  @JTyree704

Facebook:  Facebook.com/SportsFromMyEyes

Charlotte's Opening Night Thriller

Oct 30, 2014 -- 12:18pm

On the eve of Kemba Walker’s four-year contract extension worth $48 million, Walker hit back shot after big shot, with the most important one coming in the overtime with five seconds to go when he hit the 21-foot jumper with five seconds remaining to give the Hornets the 108-106 win.

By looking at the final score you’ll never know that there was a point during Charlotte’s season-opener against the Milwaukee Bucks when the Hornets trailed by 24 points 74-50 at the 6:33 mark in the third quarter, the fans let the players know of their disapproval with some boos of their own.

Despite being down by 24, that never give up attitude the Bobcats possessed carried over to the Hornets.

The 19,439 fans inside of Time Warner Cable Arena experience everything on opening night from frustration to exuberance.

When coach Clifford was asked how his ballclub was able to rally, “NBA games are 48 minutes, and our guys understand that.”

It wasn’t the prettiest game for free-agent signee Lance Stephenson, who finished with seven points on three-of-12 shooting, but he impacted the game in other ways 13 rebounds and eight assists.

“If I’m not scoring I’m going to do other things, I’m going to pass, rebound and play a little defense,” said Stephenson.

Walker didn’t have his best shooting night going nine-of-26 from the field, but the most important stat of his night, wasn’t the two big jumpers he made, but the zero turnovers he committed.

I’m not a big fan of my point guard taking 26 shots, I would like to see that number scaled down drastically, but what makes him special is despite struggling from the field when his number was called upon he delivered, hitting the shot to send the game into overtime, and the game-winner in overtime.

Milwaukee made it difficult for the 2014 All-NBA third team member Al Jefferson to get into a groove, going six-of-15 with 14 points.

I will say this Marvin Williams and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist were the guys that impressed me the most. We all know Williams isn’t the passer Josh McRoberts is, but the guy can shoot it going eight-of-12 with 19 points, connecting on three from downtown. Kidd-Gilchrist, who’s has been the talk of the summer with his new and improved jumper did not disappoint, with 17 points on six-of eight shooting, the confidence was evident in his game last night.

Coming off the bench Cody Zeller did exactly what he was suppose to do providing a spark with 11 points in 20 minutes.

The win for Hornets marks the largest comeback in Charlotte NBA history, rallying from 24.

It’s a long NBA season with 81 regular season games on the Hornet’s schedule, but what thing Charlotte can be proud of is that they started the season off with a win.

 

Justin Thomas

ESPN 730 Charlotte Hornets Reporter and Blogger

Twitter:  @JTyree704

Facebook:  Facebook.com/SportsFromMyEyes

College Football Is Back

Aug 29, 2014 -- 11:28am

The college football season is back folks if you haven't been able to tell from the ESPN and SEC Network coverage.

College football fans across the nation are filled with excitement from calling into local sports talk radio shows to screaming national champions on fan forums in support of their perspective schools.

With the four-team playoff finally underway, this season could be one for the books.

You have Heisman winning quarterback Jameis Winston returning with a loaded Florida State roster, and Nick Saban leading his Alabama Crimson Tide who’s eager to show the nation they are better than the team that was embarrassed by Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl.

Now off to the Pac-12, a conference ready to compete on a national level against the SEC with Oregon, UCLA and Stanford as the headliners of the conference.

Both Oregon and UCLA are in every major sports publications preseason top-10. Stanford will the team sitting either at 10th in some publications or right outside of the top-10. Though Oregon will be ranked in the top-five they can’t find a way to defeat Stanford, the Cardinal has ended the Ducks national championship dreams for the past two seasons. Both Oregon and UCLA have two of the toughest schedules in the country according to ESPN’s Football Power Index, we’ll see if they can overcome the odds.

What about that team in Ohio?

Despite losing Braxton Miller to a season-ending shoulder injury, Urban Meyer and his Buckeyes will be just fine. Ohio State is 24-2 over the past two seasons, that’s pretty impressive. Though the Buckeyes lost their last two games of the 2013 in the B1G 10 Championship Game and the BCS Discover Orange Bowl, Ohio State will be a popular pick to come out on top of the conference. The B1G should be interesting with Ohio State, Michigan State and Penn State sitting atop the conference, each of the three will return their quarterbacks of last season, if you are unaware the three are awfully good.

Then you have Oklahoma and Baylor, one team is coming off an impressive victory in the Sugar Bowl, and the other is returning one of highest scoring offenses in college football history last season.

The Big 12 will be happy to have two teams in the national preseason polls, but won’t be too happy to hear that many feel like they will be the conference that doesn’t have a member in the four-team playoff. The national media does have a legitimate argument with not being sold on Oklahoma and knowing Baylor can score, but overall just not a top-four team in the nation. We’ll see what “Big Game” Bob Stoops and the Baylor Bears have to say about that in 2014.

It would be unfair to leave out the big bad wolf in the SEC, but they will more than likely only have one team in the four-team playoff.

With the consensus being South Carolina will come out of the East and Alabama coming out of the West, you never know what surprises the SEC will bring. Alabama is the favorite, but I’m sure Auburn and LSU will have something to say about that. South Carolina should come out on top in the East, but the Gamecocks always seem to slip up at least once. Georgia will have Heisman candidate Todd Gurley back, and Florida will be healthy for once. The SEC East should be interesting to say the least.

No need to mention the ACC, all you need to know is Florida State will run right through the conference hoisting the conference trophy in Charlotte after the ACC Championship Game.

In sports we know nothing is guaranteed to any team, with that being said, college football is back.

Just ask South Carolina about nothing being guaranteed, Texas A&M went into Williams-Brice Stadium last night and left with a victory of 52-28. Nobody pick the Aggies to win outside of their fan base.

 

Justin Thomas

ESPN 730 College Football Blogger

Twitter:  @JTyree704

Facebook:  www.Facebook.com/SportsFromMyEyes 

Can Dylan Thompson pickup where Connor Shaw left off?

Aug 28, 2014 -- 9:53am

Whenever you have to be the replacement to a guy who went 27-5 as a starting quarterback and 17-0 at home, you have big shoes to fill.

The 6’3 218-pound fifth-year senior quarterback in Dylan Thompson will be responsible for picking up where Connor Shaw left off.

Tonight is the start of the college football season, and the lights will shine bright inside of Williams-Brice Stadium tonight.

“He’s our best player," Steve Spurrier told Alex Scarborough of ESPN.com. "I think he’s by far our best player right now.” 

When you have a 1,100-yard rusher in Mike Davis, and your head coach raves about the quarterback who’s only started three games as your best player, that should give you good feeling as a Gamecock fan.

As a starting quarterback Thompson is 3-0.

He’s no stranger when it comes to playing experience. He’s seen the playing field in some significant games over his tenure at South Carolina with his most memorable game coming when he led his Gamecocks to a win as a starter going 23-41 for 310 yards and three touchdowns against in-state rival Clemson as a sophomore in 2012.

Thompson went 52-89 for 783 yards with four touchdowns and three interceptions, playing in 10 of the 13 games as a junior receiving one start against Missouri, getting the nod over an injured Shaw. His playing time wasn’t consistent, but one thing Spurrier did was keep his backup quarterback alert bringing him in at any given moment.

Though his playing time varied, he always was prepared to step in when his number was called.

There will be a difference in what South Carolina fans are accustom to seeing at the quarterback position. Thompson who has a bit of mobility is more of your prototype quarterback, rather than a dual-threat like Shaw.

Spurrier had this to say about his quarterback during SEC Media Days, "He's been there five years. He's a five-year guy who's got one year to make his mark in college football. He's got one year to do his thing. So he is really fired up about it, and he wants to take advantage. I'm going to try my best to give him every opportunity to lead our team and have as big of a year as possible."

If Thompson does not a successful season with the high hopes that Gamecock fans have for this season, he'll forever be known in the state of South Carolina as the quarterback who could not fill Connor Shaw's shoes.

I'll tell you one thing, Thompson better beat those Clemson Tigers if does nothing else, he can not afford to lose that game. 

One thing for the road South Carolina has won their last 14 season-openers, thats the longest streak of any SEC team.

 

Justin Thomas

ESPN 730 College Football Blogger

Twitter:  @JTyree704

Facebook:  www.Facebook.com/SportsFromMyEyes 

Charlotte's Successful Summer

Jul 17, 2014 -- 1:51am

When the news broke that Josh McRoberts was going to become a member of the Miami Heat the city felt pain. The city continued to receive more bad news when the Utah Jazz announced that they were going to match Gordon Hayward’s offer sheet from Charlotte.

That next name that Michael Jordan talked about pairing with Al Jefferson went from promising to bleak.

Little did fans know that good news would be around the corner.

Despite conflicting reports on whether or not Lance Stephenson would be the likely candidate for the Hornets, yet again, Rich Cho rose to the occasion signing Stephenson to a three-year, $27 million dollar deal with the third year being a team option.

Going into the draft the Hornets where looking to add length and size to the front court, and a perimeter scoring threat that can knock it down from long range. Both needs were addressed in forward Noah Vonleh of Indiana and guard P.J. Hairston of North Carolina.

Neither of the two draftees are finished products but having Patrick Ewing on staff for Vonleh and Mark Price for Hairston, the young talents have the right tools surrounding them to evolve into quality basketball players.

Losing McRoberts to the Miami Heat was a curve ball that many didn’t expect to see coming, but instead of sulking Cho went out and brought in stretch-four Marvin Williams of the Utah Jazz. Though Williams is a solid forward in this league, Charlotte will miss McRoberts’ four assist average.

Many expected Roman Sessions to return as the backup point guard including myself, but the Hornets took a different route rather than Sessions, Brian Roberts of the New Orleans Pelicans was added to the roster. Roberts averaged nine points and three assists for the Pelicans last season.

There just wasn’t one homerun signing, quality pieces were also added that fit both style of play and team needs.

Charlotte now has a go to player in Jefferson, a solid point guard in Kemba Walker a defensive stopper in Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and a legitimate shooting guard in Stephenson. The Hornets are ready to compete for a top-four seed in the Eastern Conference. Cho was vocal about achieving Charlotte’s next goal of having homecourt in the playoffs, he’s put together a product that’s capable of taking that next step.

For those who are curious about Kidd-Gilchrist’s shooting motion, he and assistant coach Mark Price have removed the “hitch” to a much smoother shooting stroke.

It would have been easy for the Hornets’ front office to accept just making the playoffs, but rather than becoming complacent, they became aggressive on the free-agent market. When McRoberts left they found a replacement, then after losing out on Hayward they turned to plan B.

All three team needs were addressed this offseason of signing a talented wing, adding length and depth to the frontcourt and finding a backup point guard.

Whether or not you’re a fan of the moves that have been made this offseason by Cho you have to appreciate his efforts of improving this roster.

Charlotte may have lost some toughness in McRoberts, but gained some nasty in Stephenson.

 

Justin Thomas

ESPN 730 Charlotte Hornets Insider and Blogger

Twitter:  @JTyree704

Facebook:  www.Facebook.com/SportsFromMyEyes

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