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Blogcat's Take, 1/16

For some reason, I feel like dwelling on the pain of last night’s loss to the New Orleans Pelicans while it’s still farm-to-table fresh. There was so much to be frustrated about; it was a frustration-rich environment. Going in reverse order: why wasn’t the foul on Jeremy Lin by Jrue Holiday on the penultimate inbounds considered to be a shooting foul? Lin sure looked like he was shooting—hell, there was only 1.2 seconds left on the clock, that’s basically all he could be doing. The ball from Lin’s non-shot damn near went in right after the ref called foul. We were SO close to Lin completing an and-1 for the win, but at the very least we should have had two free throws for the chance to tie it. Next—and this is the last time I’ll complain about the refs, I promise—the “foul” on Anthony Davis that gift-wrapped him two free throws to put the Pelicans up 107-104 was either a) committed by the floor, or :cool: an offensive charge by his sneakers, because the dude straight-up slipped. Unfortunately, the actual foul was called on Cody Zeller, who happened to be the nearest Hornet in the area. Charlotte absolutely deserved to lose, don’t get me wrong, but the refs sealed the deal; if the Hornets’ own incompetence was Vontaze Burfict, the refs were Pac-Man Jones.

The incompetence of which I speak is this frustrating compulsion to double-team when it’s not necessary or collapse to the paint too early (or some combination of both). Double-team-itis was the acute cause of death last night on the Pelicans’ final Holiday-to-Davis pick-and-roll alley-oop, but earlier in the game both symptoms manifested when we repeatedly allowed a wide-open Ryan Anderson to go Chris Kyle on the basket from long-range. Let’s begin first with the clip of the game-winning alley-oop by the Brow. Trigger/spoiler warning: you certainly don’t need to watch this clip—especially if you already saw it when it happened last night—because it will hurt. Maybe you could do what some pediatricians do when they’re giving shots to little kids and say you’ll do it on the count of 3 but then do it on 2. Also, just think about poor me, who had to dig it up online and watch it a couple of times so that I could get my iPhone recorder steady and record it, because I’m too ghetto/inept to know how to record video directly off my laptop, not to mention I’m probably going to get sued for a million dollars for unlawful copyright violations—which would be hilarious and typical: getting sued for pirating video images of my favorite team losing. Anyway:

Why oh why does Zeller leave Davis to join Kemba Walker on a double-team of Holiday?? Leaving aside that Davis is one of the best players in the league and it’s generally a good idea to cover him at all times, Walker was doing fine by himself. Look again if you dare at that clip: Kemba’s right there with Holiday; if Holiday shoots it, it’s going to be a very tough shot and Holiday is a 42% shooter (per NBA.com) on pick-and-rolls, which is nice, but you definitely would take your chances with him. As much as I enjoy and appreciate Zeller, he should have immediately been administered a drug test after that play, because I don’t know what he was thinking.

As painful as this was, though, it was just the final fork in the corpse’s back. The real cause of death was the cancerous defense that occurred in the first and second quarters, when the Hornets repeatedly and inexplicably kept leaving Ryan Anderson more open than an issue of Hustler in a sex shop. Anderson racked up 5 3-pointers and 8 FGs overall in about 17 minutes of play, reversing a 3-point Pelicans deficit into an 8-point halftime lead. Frank Kaminsky was the one primarily responsible on the court for allowing this, but I don’t know if this was really his fault or if he was just doing what Coach Clifford’s scheme dictates. Regardless, this play here typifies the mayhem:

Kaminsky and Walker have things under control until they both get stuck on Holiday for absolutely no reason. Why would Kaminsky think that a switch or a double-team was happening or would even be appropriate? Walker is not in danger, and Holiday is one of the few point guards who actually can’t overpower Kemba. Even if Walker were in trouble, there are certain people whom you should just stick a defender on at all times to take out of the equation. Anderson is one of those people, because if he gets the ball he’s going to shoot it almost immediately; it’s like passing Lil Wayne a blunt—you know what’s going to happen. You have to take your chances with everybody else on the court and shut Anderson down. But through halftime, Kaminsky kept either wandering off, sagging too much to the middle, or helping out on double-teams when help wasn’t warranted.

Just because I feel like twisting the dagger around while it’s inside my own abdomen, there is one other key reason why guys like Anderson make all of this even MORE agonizing than usual. At least when a sharpshooter like JJ Redick burns you, it’s usually because he’s darted through a gauntlet of screens and sprung himself open like an amphetamine-fueled lab rat bursting out of a maze; you sort of have to applaud the effort. Anderson (and Mirza Teletovic last week, and other frequently-foreign, frequently-bearded stretch-4’s in the past) does none of that; he just drifts out there and waits for you to forget about him so that when he scores, it’s your own damn fault more often than not. For the record (and I don’t know why I wrote “for the record,” as if this post might one day be used in court), this is not the first time we’ve been victimized by Anderson in the Clifford era; he tagged us for 16 points last year in an early season wipeout in the exact same fashion—because that’s his only fashion; he’s like Charlie Brown’s yellow-and-black-striped shirt. He’s also a career 38% 3-point shooter; we really should have known better.

It’s worth mentioning that Clifford did adjust in this game, however belatedly. In the 3rd quarter, a visibly pissed off-looking Nic Batum—god bless him—took the law into his own hands and attached himself to Anderson like a catheter as soon as he subbed in at 5:47. Anderson did not even get a shot off for 3 minutes until he finally got a put-back. Two minutes later he got another dunk, but only because Batum had to slide over to Davis in the paint. A near-duplication of that scenario happened 20 seconds later, except this time Anderson was fouled on his layup attempt and converted two free throws. And finally, Anderson hit a bonkers 3-pointer while being covered to end the 3rd quarter. All four of these scores were far more forgivable to me as a fan. The first one was a put-back that fell right to him, which just happens. In the middle two…c’mon, it’s the Brow in the paint, what are you going to do, and Batum at least kept Anderson out of his 3-point comfort zone. And in the case of the last one you tip your cap to a hell of a shot. The point is, forced into hard labor for his shots, Anderson went minus-5 in the second half (per Bastketball-Reference.com) and scored just one more jumper in the fourth quarter. If the Hornets had taken this approach from the start, they wouldn’t have been in a position to rip our hearts out at the end.

But live, get badly maimed, and learn, I guess. Now the Hornets have to somehow turn around and play again today against the Bucks, who have a similar spot-up nightmare in Khris Middleton, who ranks in the 91st percentile in that particular play type (per NBA.com). Then less than 48 hours later on MLK Day—in this sneakily difficult 3-games-in-4-days stretch—the Hornets have to take on the Utah Jazz’s Joe Ingles (bearded foreigner alert!) and his 96th percentile spot-up ranking. The Hornets are now tied for giving up the 2nd most above-the-break 3-point attempts in the league and allow the 8th worst FG% from that spot. Fortunately, the Bucks and Jazz are both below-average from that shot location. Nevertheless, if the Hornets can’t get more nimble in their defensive schemes and carve out some exceptions to their rules, pointlessly open opponents are going to kill whatever’s left of our playoff chances.

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