Charlotte Splits With Nets, Wizards
Al Jefferson and the Charlotte Hornets continued the fight for home court advantage in the playoffs with a pair of weekend games. On Friday, the Hornets took care of a business at home with a 113-99 win against the Brooklyn Nets, before falling to the Washington Wizards in a Sunday showdown.
The victory over the Nets marked a 4-0 season sweep and also guaranteed the Hornets would place no lower than the No. 6 seed in the Eastern Conference. With the win, Charlotte pulled even with Miami for the fifth seed, but the Heat hold a tiebreaker.
“No matter what, this group of guys has done a great job,” coach Steve Clifford said. “We are becoming more relevant in the NBA. This will be two out of three years in the playoffs. That’s what good teams do. We have a core of guys so we can play a game that can be successful against most teams. And we’ve proven that through a lot of adversity.”
Big Al led the team with nine rebounds and tacked on six points, five assists and two steals, contributing to terrific bench play that outscored Brooklyn 54-44.
Taking the spot of an injured Jeremy Lamb, Troy Daniels made his first five three-pointers to finish with 17 points, and Nicolas Batum returned from injury to rack up 14 points.
After an even first quarter, Big Al showed his offensive versatility by finding Marvin Williams with an assist for a dunk and Jeremy Lin for a layup in the second period of play. Then, he feasted in the paint for a layup of his own. Midway into the second quarter, Charlotte had racked up 10 assists on 14 made field goals on the way to 51 percent shooting for the first half.
In the first half, thanks in part to Big Al, Charlotte won the battle for points in the paint, and stellar defense held the Nets to 28 percent three-point shooting to help the Hornets enter the third quarter with a 50-43 advantage.
After trailing 41-39 late in the second quarter, the Hornets put up a huge 34-14 run that gave the team a comfortable 18-point lead in the third quarter. Big Al continued to assert his dominance in the paint with a few rebounds, and he sunk a jumper too. After the onslaught, the Nets never threatened the lead.
In the fourth quarter, Al tacked on three assists, a jumper and a few more rebounds. With around six minutes left, coach Clifford was able to rest key players as the Hornets cruised to a 113-99 victory.
The Hornets had at least 10 treys for the 49th time this season, which ranks second to only the Golden State Warriors, who have done it 64 times. Charlotte also dominated the defensive front to win the battle for blocks 12-5.
“Pro sports is about what you do in the playoffs. Nobody can hide from that. They’ve done a great job for the organization, the city, but I also think that we’re capable of doing something significant,” coach Clifford said.
HORNETS FALL IN D.C.
On Sunday, the Hornets traveled to Washington D.C. for an afternoon contest with the Wizards. Big Al and the team mounted a valiant effort to turn a 14-point gap into a brief lead in the third quarter, but the Wizards held on to a 113-98 victory.
Key performances came from Al, who tallied 10 points and seven rebounds, and Frank Kaminsky, who recorded a career-high 11 rebounds.
“We didn’t really set a tone early on. They were able to get a lot of things in transition, in the half-court, spreading us out and getting in the paint,” Kaminsky said. “We just didn’t have it defensively today.”
In the first quarter, Al grabbed an offensive rebound and turned it into easy points, before he drained a seven-foot shot a few plays later to keep the score even. As time winded down, Kaminsky nailed a three, but the Wizards finished on top 28-27.
After playing for about eight minutes of game time, Washington’s second-leading scorer in Bradley Beal left the game with a sore pelvis. In the second quarter, Al grabbed three rebounds, and he nailed another silky midrange jumper, but Washington maintained a 55-48 lead at the half.
The Wiz stayed ahead early in the third, but with eight minutes to play in the quarter, a Marvin Williams tip shot tied the game at 57. About five minutes later, the Hornets took a 71-69 lead, but a 12-0 run to close the quarter put the Wizards back on top 86-74.
At the beginning of the fourth quarter, Al worked Nene in the paint to draw free throws, and then his layup topped an 8-0 boost, pulling the Hornets to within four points. Charlotte played in the bonus for nearly the final eight minutes, but Washington responded with a 14-2 run to seal the game.
“We all have full confidence in ourselves and in our team that when it comes down to it, we’ll be ready to go. We dropped the ball today, but I think we’ll learn from this and be ready for the playoffs,” Kaminsky said.
Charlotte will seek a strong finish for the last two regular season games. Al and the boys will visit Boston for a Monday contest with the Celtics. The Hornets are 11-4 in the second game of back-to-back appearances, so that provides encouragement heading into the showdown.
“We played two months of really, really good basketball and we have two games here to get back to that,” coach Steve Clifford said. “Whether it’s a noon start, 2:00, whatever, we gotta be ready to play.”
Boston leads the season series 2-0, with the last contest a 102-89 win.
The Celtics currently hold the No. 4 seed, and Charlotte trails Boston by just one game. The contest will have major implications on playoff matchups. This will also be a homecoming of sorts, as Big Al was originally drafted by the Celtics with the No. 15 pick in 2004.
The game will start at 7:30 p.m. and will air on television with Fox Sports Southeast and on the radio with WFNZ 610 AM.
- Walker, Daniels lift Hornets to season sweep of Nets 113-99 (AP, Apr. 8, 2016)
- Hornets Blow Past Brooklyn (Charlotte Hornets, Apr. 8, 2016)
- Big third quarter gives Hornets win over Nets (Charlotte Observer, Apr. 8, 2016)
- Gortat scores 21 points as Wizards upset Hornets, 113-98 (AP, Apr. 10, 2016)
- Charlotte Hornets suffer costly loss, 113-98, to the Wizards (Charlotte Observer, Apr. 10, 2016)