Hornets struggle to find scoring touch against Knicks. What we learned in Charlotte’s loss

On the bright side, at least it wasn’t a heart-breaker for once.

Still, that had to be little consolation for the Charlotte Hornets. Hearing boos scattered throughout the night while thousands of New York fans dressed in orange and white constantly serenaded the visitors couldn’t have felt all that good.

A 121-102 loss to the Knicks in front of 17,696 at Spectrum Center on Friday night was just the latest in a season that’s spiraling out of control and shows no signs of slowing down anytime soon.

“We have very little room for error,” coach Steve Clifford said. “When we don’t play at a high level for our group every night, it’s hard to be competitive. … We’re just going to have some games like this until we get guys back. We played two really, really good games the last two, really good for the guys we’re putting out there. Those older guys, I think the minutes are catching up. The younger guys have hit the wall, too, because that wasn’t effort-based tonight.

“You’ve got to know where we’re at here. We’re undermanned here and it can catch up with you.”

There’s just no running away from what the Hornets (7-19) are dealing with. Especially with no definitive timetable for a return for any of their key injured players.

“It’s frustrating for sure,” Kelly Oubre said. “I’m a winner and I don’t like to lose. But at the end of the day these are the cards we’re being dealt right now. We are going out each and every night competing and yeah, we make mistakes. But at the end of the game, if you look down at the recap of the game, we’re doing a lot of positive things.

“But we have a lot of detrimental mistakes that we’re making, too. So, it’s just about fixing those things getting better in practice and shootaround and this thing will turn.”

Here are some takeaways from the Hornets’ 16th loss in their past 20 outings:

Hitting/missing that magic number

Offensive futility is something the Hornets have struggled with all season, and it crept up once more. Ranked dead last in the league with an offensive rating of 107.8, they couldn’t even muster that many points against the Knicks (13-13). The Hornets also shot a meager 44%, and that actually improved after a 36.4% showing in the first quarter.

The Hornets have far too many scoring droughts and that common theme throughout these past two months is continuously hurting them because they don’t have the firepower to constantly climb out of hefty deficits.

“Our best offensive players haven’t played, so that’s going to hurt your offense for sure,” Clifford said. “We’re asking a lot of those guys. We just have a team right now where our guys have to score. Everybody has guys you count on, but when you’re playing without as many guys as we are, those three guys are going to have to score.”

Not enough help for the birthday boy

Perhaps his teammates were saving their gifts until afterward, because the Hornets didn’t give Oubre much help on his 27th birthday.

It took nearly three quarters before the Hornets had anyone else join Oubre in double figures in scoring. Oubre poured in 22 points and has scored at least 20 in seven straight games, the longest streak of his career. He was the only one whose shot didn’t appear erratic from the outset in a maddeningly frustrating night.

“I’m going out there and just playing basketball,” Oubre said. “Everything is subject to change at any given moment, from my experience. I’m just out there trying to do what I can do to help us win and I’m not even playing my best basketball.

“I’m just going out there trying to compete and win and that’s it.”

Decent production from the Hornets’ bench slightly negated the lack of a consistent output from the rest of their starting contingent, fueled mostly by an aggressive Bryce McGowens, who totaled 10 points in a career-high 30:03. But not enough to overcome a 87-72 deficit in points rung up by the starters.

“I feel like energy is in our team, it’s in the arena,” McGowens said. “So, it’s really coming out and building off each other, using each other’s energy. Just coming out and competing, trying to get a win.”

Minutes concerns

Don’t think the minutes are adding up for Terry Rozier?

If he wasn’t a couple of games shy of being eligible, stemming from the eight he missed with a sprained ankle, Rozier would be leading the league in average minutes per game. He’s at 37.8 — Portland’s Anfernee Simons is No. 1 in the NBA at 37 in the 23 games he logged — and spent 32 minutes on the floor against New York. That number surely would’ve been larger if Rozier didn’t spend most of the first half in foul trouble.

Oubre and PJ Washington are averaging a shade under 33 minutes per game and in order to alleviate some of the grind Rozier and other starters are going through, the Hornets have eased back a bit on their on-court work in between games.

“We’re just not practicing much,” Clifford said. “(Thursday) we didn’t come in at all. The younger guys came in and did some stuff, the other guys did not. The day after the Clippers game, we came in and watched film, we walked through some stuff, did some teaching. It’s the only way we can do it right now until everybody comes back. We have no chance unless those guys play this kind of minutes and it’s adding up.

“The back-to-backs, those guys, the four of them, 40 (minutes), 40, 38, 38. They know it. The team knows it. I’ve told the team that. It’s just hard to play, even now we have a couple lineups out there where some nights it’s OK and some nights it’s not. But it’s just the way we have to do it until we get more people back.”

What happened to LaMelo?

As he works himself back from a sprained left ankle, LaMelo Ball typically is among the last players on the court during early pregame warmups. But he was conspicuously absent prior to their date with the Knicks and also wasn’t spotted on the bench during the game.

The explanation? According to the Hornets, Ball, who missed his 10th straight game, was under the weather and didn’t feel well.