Finding the words to describe what transpired for most of the night, Terry Rozier kept it real as usual. Sugar coating matters isn’t in Rozier’s makeup and the Charlotte Hornets guard doesn’t have it as part of his lexicon.
So in explaining the Hornets’ performance defensively, Rozier was raw and succinct.
“That s--- looked ugly,” Rozier said following the Hornets’ 133-119 loss to Chicago at the United Center. “It’s just soft. We’ve got to get back to being real physical, making teams feel us. They are getting easy catches and stuff like that. So it looks soft. Anybody can come out there and score at least 10 points on us.
“We’ve got to be more physical out there. We don’t care if we pick up more fouls. We’ve got to be that physical team, the more physical team. It just looked soft.”
Missing two key rotation players in Mason Plumlee and Cody Martin, the Hornets (13-10) weren’t good at all defensively against the Bulls. Chicago carved them up behind a season-high 35 assists and had plenty of wide open attempts. The Bulls also racked up a season high in points and nailed a season-best 59.6% from the field.
“We’re scoring plenty,” coach James Borrego said. “Houston game we scored, Minnesota game we scored, tonight we scored. We are missing depth, I.Q., physicality, awareness, pride. And those are two guys that give that to us.”
Streaking has become a thing for these Hornets. They’ve already had three stretches where they’ve won at least three games in a row and have also dropped consecutive games now on more than one occasion, the longest being their span of five consecutive defeats wrapped around their trip to California earlier this month.
But even with their latest rough patch, Rozier insists the team’s psyche is in a good place.
“Everybody in the world is always going to overreact to stuff,” Rozier said. “We’ve got to stay together in that locker room. We can’t overreact to stuff. We’ve got to stay together in that locker room. We can’t be overreacting, can’t go home listening to our people and what they’ve got to say. We stay together, our spirits are high and we’ve got an important one in two days
“We are just worried about that. We are in a great spot. It ain’t like we are one of the worst teams in the league. We just move on from it. Our spirits are still high.”
Here are three things we learned in the Hornets’ second straight loss:
CODY MARTIN IS BETTER THAN PEOPLE THINK
Cody Martin is as tough-nosed as they come. So he had to be feeling pretty bad to not suit up and play against the Bulls (14-8) due to illness. And the key reserve was missed.
Martin is like a quarterback for the Hornets when he’s on the floor and they needed his services badly to stop dribble penetration since their rim protection was so weak. His gritty presence on the court is undeniable and it’s really obvious how much he’s improved and just how far he’s come this season in his third year, putting it all together offensively and defensively.
His mentality is infectious at times.
“Well, he turns the game,” Borrego said. “Every time he comes in, he turns the game defensively for us. He just brings the aggression, the physicality. He just has working DNA and he has really been a major part of this start for us this season.
“We missed him last game against Houston. He picked up three quick ones and our defense basically fell apart.”
In more than one area, too.
“I feel like it’s just all around,” said LaMelo Ball, who had 18 points, 13 assists and seven rebounds in his third matchup against his older brother, Lonzo. “We’ve just got to go back to it, watch the film and see what coverages we missed and what we feel best in.“
NOT ENOUGH BALL MOVEMENT
When the Hornets are close to their best, the ball is usually flowing and shifting from side to side. Those times they struggle arise out of too much individual play.
Against the Bulls, the ball wasn’t moving freely and the Hornets hoisted a bevy of jumpers. They had to work for just about everything and didn’t get much in the way of easy buckets. Although they recorded 23 assists on their 42 made shots, most of those came on jumpers. Nothing of note really happened on the interior until they found themselves trailing by 20 in the second half.
The Bulls’ length made it difficult, but the Hornets needed to do a better job sharing the ball earlier before things began unraveling.
NICK RICHARDS STARTS, PJ SIZZLES
In a somewhat surprising move, Nick Richards received a pretty good birthday present: He got the starting nod at center with Mason Plumlee sidelined for his third straight game nursing a right calf strain. Washington started the previous two games, but with the Bulls’ length up front and big man Nik Vucevic to tend to, Richards drew the opening assignment.
Washington seemed to be in his comfort zone again coming off the bench. He drained his first four shots beyond the 3-point arc, cashing in 12 quick points to give them a boost. He tied his season high for makes beyond the line in a game with five even before halftime, injecting the Hornets with some notable production at the position.
Richards appeared to get lost too often in the pick and roll and left Vucevic open frequently, an issue that earned him a place on the bench longer than he would have surely hoped.
“We started a young kid that’s seeing Vucevic for the first time,” Borrego said. “He’s a puppy out there trying to figure this out.”