The number of star players wearing expensive clothing rather than uniforms inside the Spectrum Center on Saturday was higher than usual, multiplied because the Hornets’ opponent, Milwaukee, was resting its All-Star and other key team members.
With the Bucks playing without Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton and Jrue Holiday, the Charlotte Hornets had an opportunity to take advantage of a lineup devoid of most of its top firepower and keep their recent success at home going.
Considering Milwaukee was on the tail end of a back-to-back, and the Hornets were once again without LaMelo Ball, Gordon Hayward, Dennis Smith Jr. and Cody Martin, this had the makings of a more evenly matched contest.
Instead, the Bucks took a cue from the halftime act of Duo Transcend and skated power circles around Charlotte, while the Hornets were lethargic in a 105-96 loss.
“It’s tough to win whenever everything isn’t clicking on all cylinders, especially against a championship-caliber team like these guys,” Kelly Oubre said. “No matter how many guys they are down, they are still capable of being in games that we haven’t and they have that experience.”
School was indeed in session for the Hornets against Milwaukee’s reserves.
“Losing is the hardest thing always,” coach Steve Clifford said. “They want to win, too. Our guys are disappointed. There were two things we wanted to do: get better and win, and win at home. We had won our last three and played much better, and tonight we weren’t near at that level. And they are good too, obviously.
“There’s a reason why they are first in defense. They were down some guys, but even the majority of the guys they played tonight are guys that were in their playing group of teams. … Their defense is disciplined and they know what they’re doing, and they’re hard to play against.”
Here are some key takeaways from the Hornets’ second defeat in their past three games:
Cold as ice
Let’s begin with the positive: the Hornets (7-16) sank 88.5% of their free throws.
The problem? That’s about all they could hit against Milwaukee.
Shots were clanking off the rim the entire evening, a frustrating display even for the team featuring the league’s next-to-worst field-goal percentage. Charlotte’s offensive doldrums were a result of them making 34 of 87 attempts, and they were atrocious beyond the 3-point arc, knocking down just 5 of 24 attempts.
No one’s shooting funk was as bad as PJ Washington’s. Way off with his stroke, Washington misfired on all 13 attempts from the field and went scoreless. He couldn’t negate the offensive production of noted Hornet killer Bobby Portis Jr., who burst out of the gate with 11 first-quarter points to set the tone.
“I feel like we’re getting good shots, they just didn’t fall for us tonight,” Jalen McDaniels said. “We called a few timeouts and coach told us, ‘We’re playing one-on-one, we’ve got to get back to moving the ball, set plays.’ What he calls, we’ve got to execute. I felt myself take a few bad shots. It’s just a part of the game. You’ve just got to limit them and just work on executing.”
Too much hero ball
When the Hornets are at their best, the ball is flowing. And that didn’t happen against the Bucks.
Far too often, the Hornets got wrapped up in individual play and weren’t looking out for the open man, opting to do it themselves. It was a trend from the opening tip, with less than a third of their first-half field goals coming on assists.
Overall, the Hornets amassed only 15 assists on 33 made field goals. That’s not going to get it done against good defensive teams like Milwaukee (16-6), even if the Bucks didn’t have some of their top players available. One-on-one with Milwaukee is not a recipe for success.
“Yeah, I felt it,” Oubre said. “We didn’t really play for each other like we’ve been playing. Playing to give each other rhythm instead of just playing to go get ours. I feel like we lacked that flow tonight for sure and that’s kind of the key to our game.
“We have so much talent that when we have everybody clicking, and everybody in rhythm, and touching the rock and doing what they do best we’re tough to guard on the offensive end. So, I think that that’s a big factor tonight.”
In the battle of reserves, things didn’t exactly go in the Hornets’ favor, either.
Not enough production came from the Hornets’ non-starters, with Milwaukee outscoring the Hornets 31-16 in bench points.
Nick Richards was the only one who did anything of significance with his nine points and five rebounds. All five of the Bucks’ reserves scored while two of the four Hornets to come off the bench — Bryce McGowens and Kai Jones — didn’t top two points.
“I would say it’s probably just fatigue off a back-to-back,” Oubre said. “These younger guys on our team haven’t really played back-to-back and experienced what it’s like to play high-level minutes one night and then have to be relied upon for high minutes on the second night of a back-to-back.
“So, I think that’s what it was. The energy was down, but it comes with learning experience, and we have to get better with that. We are not doing too well this season on the second nights of back-to-backs. So, that just comes with the growth.”