Charlotte Hornets

NBA | Charlotte Hornets vs. Washington Wizards | Rick Bonnell | recap | Dec 14 | 2016

If the Charlotte Hornets don’t start acting like tough guys, they’re headed for tough times.

Coach Steve Clifford has sent that message intermittently for weeks, but never in a more direct and alarmed fashion than after Wednesday’s 109-106 loss to the Washington Wizards.

Clifford used the word “physicality” in just about every sentence of a severe critique of his team’s play. The summation: “I’m sick of looking at it,” Clifford said.

There were numerous reasons for the Hornets losing their third straight game, falling to 14-12. In particular, they uncharacteristically committed 18 turnovers, leading to 23 points.

But to Clifford, the greatest sin was allowing Wizards center Marcin Gortat to bully them, particularly in the third quarter, when Washington turned this game around. Seven of Gortat’s game-high 12 rebounds came in that quarter.

There are really only two naturally physical players on this roster: Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Marvin Williams.

“The game came down to physical play. If guys aren’t willing to be more physical, we’ll be an up-and-down team, we’ll struggle to make the playoffs,” Clifford said.

“If we want to play with the physicality we choose to at times, we have a chance to be a good team.”

There are really only two naturally physical players on this roster: Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Marvin Williams. Roy Hibbert certainly was physical earlier in his career, but I’m not sure his sore knee is now healthy enough to allow him be a rumbler.

Clifford refuses to believe the players in his locker room can’t reinvent themselves. He told them that directly in his post-game address, then repeated it in media interviews.

“You have to change, no matter how old you are, no matter how long you’ve been in the league. You can’t let one guy dominate on the glass the way that guy did.”

Clifford has a history with Gortat from when Gortat played for the Orlando Magic and Clifford was an assistant coach there under Stan Van Gundy. Clifford speaks fondly of how Gortat entered the NBA exclusively as a tough-guy defender-rebounder and made himself into a scorer, too.

It’s obvious Clifford would love to have more guys on his current roster with Gortat’s approach.

Washington guard Bradley Beal said the only challenge in beating the Hornets Wednesday was stopping them defensively, that once Washington had the ball “it was easy.”

“It’s our greatest weakness,” Clifford implored. “It’s evident (against) teams that aren’t even physical off the ball.

“I’ve been telling them for three weeks now: (Other teams are saying) ‘Make it hard on them. Bump them off every cut, bump them off every screen.’ Sooner or later, we have to respond.”

This wasn’t exclusively Clifford’s opinion. Washington guard Bradley Beal, who finished with 20 points and a career-high nine assists, was interviewed over the public-address system at Verizon Center post-game.

He said the only challenge in beating the Hornets Wednesday was stopping them defensively, that once Washington had the ball “it was easy.”

That’s the sort of comment that would normally tick off an opposing coach. In this case, had Clifford heard what Beal said, I suspect he’d simply nod in agreement.

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