The Charlotte Hornets needed to get away after stumbling into the All-Star break. They lost 11 of their last 12 games, but after a week off, their head coach remains optimistic about their postseason chances.
Charlotte slid from two games over .500 to 24-32, dropping 2 1/2 games behind the Detroit Pistons for the eighth and final playoff berth in the Eastern Conference. The Hornets can make up a game in the standings on Thursday night as they travel to Michigan to play the Pistons at The Palace of Auburn Hills.
“We have a good group. The work (ethic) has not been a problem,” Hornets coach Steve Clifford told the media after the team’s first practice since the break. “We’ve just been inconsistent. Frankly, we just haven’t made the progress that I thought we would by now. But we have time. Twenty-six games, that’s a third of the season. Our guys, I don’t think they’ll go away. They want to win.”
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The offensive issues that Clifford mentioned were particularly apparently during the four-game losing streak the club carries into Thursday’s game. Charlotte averaged 95.2 points and shot 43.1 percent from the field during those losses.
Frontcourt injuries have played a role during the slide. Starting center Cody Zeller has only played once since Jan. 23 because of a right quad contusion. Miles Plumlee, recently acquired from Milwaukee, missed the last game with a calf strain and tweaked the injury during a scrimmage on Tuesday.
With a full complement of players, Clifford believes a playoff push is possible.
“The goal before the season started, with a team like ours, you want to play meaningful games when you get to the last 15 or 20,” he said. “Our goal was to make the playoffs, which we can, and be playing in a manner so we can be a factor, which we’re not. We need to get healthy bodies back.”
Detroit (27-30) has been a disappointment despite being in the same spot where it finished last season. The Pistons have not put together a winning streak longer than three games, though they have gone 6-3 over their last nine games.
A favorable schedule and a healthy roster give the Pistons hope of improving their position over the last 25 games.
“We’re in the playoffs as we speak,” center Andre Drummond told the media after practice on Tuesday. “We can’t be content with that. We’ve got to string together some wins to get ourselves in a good position. We got the first-half-of-the-season kinks out.”
Trades rumors have swirled around Drummond and point guard Reggie Jackson, though coach and president of basketball operations Stan Van Gundy downplayed the possibility of making a big move before Thursday’s deadline.
“(General manager Jeff Bower) talks to virtually every team in the league all the time,” Van Gundy said. “As I’ve said before, every name on our roster has come up. That’s his job. That’s what we’re supposed to be doing. There hasn’t been a serious discussion about Andre, but that doesn’t mean there haven’t been discussions about Andre. The concern, I guess, would be from Andre’s standpoint if nobody had any interest in him.”
Detroit can clinch the season series and a valuable tiebreaker over Charlotte tonight. The Pistons won two of the first three meetings.