What Charlotte Hornets said after Brandon Miller’s return in loss to Minnesota Timberwolves

Summing up the Charlotte Hornets and their uneven fortunes, Steve Clifford succinctly explained what’s ailed them most.

And with Minnesota in town on Saturday night, it was a concern yet again.

“There’s a lot to like about our group,” the coach said. “And the one thing that does happen — and it’s interesting because I talk to people too obviously — is when you don’t score it looks like you don’t play with energy. That’s not the case at all. Our issue is more physicality. I wouldn’t question you to say outside of Brooklyn the first time here, we didn’t have energy. We’ve played hard.

“What we lack is physicality so much. When you play these guys (Minnesota), you better be hitting. When you play the (New York) Knicks, you better be hitting. They are big, they’re physical. That’s how they are made. And so when people say they didn’t try as hard … We tried just as hard against the Knicks after we got down in the first quarter than we did in Brooklyn. It’s a totally different type of game.”

Given the Timberwolves feature twin 7-foot towers in Rudy Gobert and Karl-Anthony Towns, getting knocked around and bullied inside was a very real possibility for the Hornets. And that’s precisely what happened. Yielding far too many points in the paint and second-chance opportunities doomed Charlotte in a 123-117 defeat at Spectrum Center.

Charlotte Hornets forward P.J. Washington Jr. (25) reacts after scoring during the first half against the Minnesota Timberwolves at the Spectrum Center.
Charlotte Hornets forward P.J. Washington Jr. (25) reacts after scoring during the first half against the Minnesota Timberwolves at the Spectrum Center.

Not even Brandon Miller’s return after missing one game with a sprained left ankle, or Nick Richards’ reappearance in the lineup following a six-game absence due to a concussion, aided the Hornets (6-12) in their quest to outmuscle the Timberwolves. Towns and Gobert combining for 54 points, 19 rebounds and four blocks paired with Minnesota stockpiling a whopping 22 second-chance points were too much for Charlotte to overcome. Yet again.

“We’ve just got to be the team to hit first and put pressure on guys like that,” PJ Washington said. “We knew how they wanted to play coming in. But at the end of the day, it’s about will and want to and getting guys out of their comfort zone. And we’ve got to do a better job of that.”

Ok, but how?

“Just being physical and the first to hit,” Washington said. “We can’t be second to hit and let them get all over the glass like they did tonight. So, we’ve got to be better on that aspect.”

Exponentially. Or else nothing will change.

“We lost,” Clifford said, “because we are not physical enough.”

Here’s what else the Hornets had to say about their defeat to Minnesota:

On the defensive woes

“They had 22 second-chance points,” Clifford said. “Again, one of the reasons our defense is so bad is because of that. Thirty-one in Brooklyn (on Thursday), 22 today. So, when you are watching the film and you are trying to figure out what’s the problem, that’s the problem. It’s as simple as that.

“If you think about offense in the last 15 years, who would you think of? The Splash Brothers (with Golden State). Every year they won it, they were top five in defense. You’ve got to be good in both. We’re not going to win until we decide that we want to do that and we’ll run back every time.

“You can clean it up in one day. We’ve done it enough, we’ve worked on it enough, and that’s what we’ve got to get to. … The coach is in charge of those areas — the coach and the team leaders. That’s the way the NBA works. I need help, too. But if we get to that, we’re going to have a chance to take off here and have a really good year. And if we don’t, there’s going to be more nights like this where we’re fun to watch and this and that.

“But NBA people will watch that tonight and say, ‘Boy, they’re doing a good job on offense, they’re going nowhere.’ Just like I do when I watch teams that try to play like that. You’re not winning in this league. That’s one thing I do know.”

Gordon Hayward said: “I think it’s different for each scenario,” Gordon Hayward said. “But certainly I think at times it’s a lack of focus. Because I think we are playing hard out there. I think it’s just you forget for a half a second and as soon as you do that, it’s too late. Guys are too big and too fast in this league. All they need is a step.

“So, I think sometimes it’s just a lack of focus on our end. We just lose focus on what we are supposed to be doing for whatever reason. Sometimes you are thinking about offense too much, thinking about a missed shot or a turnover or whatever it may be and you didn’t get the ball and that half a second sometimes is what causes the layups or dunks.”

Washington said: “For us, I think it’s the big rebounding part. We had a big rebound that we could have had at the end of the game. I feel like that cost us. For us, just stuff like that, to win we have to clean up at the end of the game and we’ll do a better job of that.

“We’ve got to pressure guys without fouling, be in the right stance and right position, and we’ve got to talk to each other out there and we’ve just got to clean it up on that end. And we’ve got a lot to fix.”

On what they were missing without Brandon Miller

“He’s a really good two-way player,” Clifford said. “He also just came off a game in the Garden where he had 20 and you could argue he was maybe our best player. We execute when he’s on the floor and he’s guarding primary scorers on the other team. He’s pretty good at everything. He’s a really good competitor. He’s one of our best players.

“I was a big fan of his just watching his college tapes, having a chance to spend time with him when he came here. He’s far better than I thought he would be this early. … The other night in New York he turns his ankle in the first half and they say, ‘Maybe you should sit out.’ He says, ‘Wrap it up’ then went out and played.

Minnesota Timberwolves center Naz Reid (11) grabs a rebound during the first half against the Charlotte Hornets at the Spectrum Center.
Minnesota Timberwolves center Naz Reid (11) grabs a rebound during the first half against the Charlotte Hornets at the Spectrum Center.

“You don’t get a lot of younger players who are like that anymore. He went out there in the second half and actually played pretty well. He was limping around a little, but he has more of an old-school type outlook on this game. The other thing which I think is so, so important is he learns very easily.

“When you teach him something, he can do it pretty quickly. It’s a big deal. It’s a big deal. It’s a talent. When you’re around great players, a lot of times you can show them something one time and they can do it that night in a game. … He picks things up quickly. He’s very attentive. You can watch film with him and he’ll ask questions. He’s a throwback-type kid.”

On getting Nick Richards back

“(Have to watch) more so just his minutes because most injuries when guys are hurt, they can still do cardio and not lose a great deal of conditioning over a couple weeks,” Clifford said. “With him and a concussion, he wasn’t able to do anything. He’s been kind of gearing up here, and yesterday watching him, he did some live things and stuff like that.

“He’s going to need a few games to just get his conditioning level back.”