In my last article, I expressed my hope for a Hornets season turnaround with a win over the Toronto Raptors. My son Daniel and I had prime seats. For his sake, I was hoping that the Hornets would have a dominating performance.
To my disappointment, that was a wish that did not come true. The Hornets played even for the first half. It was a close and entertaining game. After half-time, the Raptors came out and hit the Hornets with a blitzkrieg of three-pointers.
Toronto dominated the third period. Three-pointers rained from the sky for the Raptors, who hit eight from downtown in that period alone. It was over before the Hornets knew what hit them.
The Raptors finished the game 14-29 from behind the arc. Hedi Turkoglu and Andrea Bargnani led the barrage of threes with four out of eight and three out of six shooting respectively.
During the first half, as Hedo was missing outside shots against loose Hornets defense, a fan sitting behind us remarked "I sure hope they intend to cover him tighter than that. He is not going to miss all night." The man was a prophet.
In the Raptors game, the main reason that the score was close for the first half was that Toronto just did not shoot well. Except for a couple of nice blocks by center Emeka Okafor, the Hornets did not do much on defense.
The picture that accompanies this article is one that I took in the third quarter. Marco Belinelli is receiving a pass from Raptor point guard Jose Calderon.
Bellinelli drained a long, uncontested three on that play.
Notice that not a single Toronto player is closely guarded. Hornets players do not even appear to be reacting to the ball.
Regardless of the defensive schemes and rotations that are used, basketball defense can be distilled down to Player A guarding Player B.
At any level, defensive position is crucial. Defense is played with quick feet and ready hands. Teams that I have coached and played on spent at least as much time practicing defense as they do offense.
Defenders have to be aware of and react to the ball.
Good defense creates offense.
Good defense limits the opponent's second chance baskets. It creates turnovers. Good defense creates fast-break opportunities.
The Hornets have not played good individual defense this season. The frustrating aspect of this is that, with the exception of Peja Stojakovic who has never shown that he is either willing or able to play defense, the rest of the Hornets roster can play defense.
The question is—will they? Playing defense requires effort, intensity and desire.
Up to this point in the season, the Hornets as a team have not shown that they are willing to do what it takes to play defense.
Following the loss to the Raptors, Coach Byron Scott started a new dance—the Lineup Shuffle. Scott benched starter Morris Peterson, who had been ineffective on offense in favor of his golfing buddy, Devin Brown.
Not only did Scott bench Peterson, but made him inactive for the contest against the Lakers. The good news for Brown was that he was getting his first start of the season. The bad news was that he would have to guard Kobe Bryant.
Brown did a mediocre job on offense, scoring ten points. This was the first double digit performance from the two guard spot in this young season.
Defensively, the performance by Brown was also mediocre. Bryant scored 28 points, just above his 26.8 points per game average, shooting better than 50 percent from the floor.
In their next game against the hapless Los Angeles Clippers, Coach Scott continued dancing the Lineup Shuffle. Newly named starter Julian Wright was benched in favor of Peja Stojakovic.
The Hornets responded with a big win over the Clippers. In his second start, shooting-guard Devin Brown, with a career 7.1 points per game average, scored 25. Peja responded with 12 points.
Scott also managed to up the minutes for rookies Marcus Thornton and Darren Collison. Each played nearly 18 minutes. Each showed both promise and need for additional maturity on the floor.
Hornets fans should not get too excited. Those were the Clippers without Blake Griffin and Eric Gordon. Tonight's game in Phoenix against the Suns who lead the Pacific Division should be a real test.
Whatever the Hornets do on the offensive side of the ball, in order to turn this season around, they have to tighten the defense.