Sunday night's 32-point loss to the Heat was by far Charlotte's worst of the season and the third-worst of the Steve Clifford era.
The Hornets coach, though, was pretty clear about what went wrong -- his team played terrible defense.
Clifford gave Heat coach Erik Spoelstra a lot of credit for his game plan and for how the Heat tore apart the NBA's ninth-best regular season defense.
"He has done -- and I said this before -- an amazing job of taking advantage of their personnel and getting them to play to their strengths while making up for the fact that they don't have a lot of range shooting," Clifford said before the Hornets practiced at the University of Miami. "So they play guys down along the baseline, which is pretty conventional in our league. But they do it with perimeter guys, post guys, which is not done a lot. They do it randomly. So it's not always at the start of a possession where you can be organized whereas it becomes a read. It totally changes your pick and roll coverages. They're unique in that way. There's not another team in the NBA that does it. They've done it on the fly here. It makes things different. To me a lot of guys have done great jobs with their teams. But I said this before he has on the fly without [Chris] Bosh brought in Joe Johnson and they play to the strengths of their best players as well as any team in our league. They've done an unbelievable job."
Clifford said the Hornets spent Monday breaking down the defensive miscues in Sunday's Game 1 loss and "put a big dent into what we have to fix."
Asked if he's going to try and do more to take center Hassan Whiteside out of the paint defensively, Clifford said the Hornets already do plenty of that with Cody Zeller. Offense, Clifford said, wasn't the problem for Charlotte. It was all defense.
"Cody is really a perimeter screener," Clifford said. "So it forces [Whiteside] away from the basket a lot actually if you're watching the film. So he'll drop more. The bottom line is how would you pull a guy away from the basket? You do it setting pick and rolls. The only thing I would say is this -- we were 1.07 points per possession on offense. Our offense wasn't even close [to that in the regular season]. That would for the year be [fifth] best in the league -- against a very good defense team. We scored 91 points because there weren't a lot of possessions. The game was slower. Our offense -- it can better -- but it was really good.
"That was not the problem. We couldn't guard them at all. That's what we've got to fix. You want to fix both areas but the offensive part was more than good enough to win. The Heat averaged 1.42 points per possesion, which would be the highest of any team in any NBA game this year. So, they rocked us. Changing the lineup to put more offense on the floor is not what we're looking for. We've got to be able to defend them."
How can the Hornets fix that from Game 1 to Game 2?
"We've got to try harder No. 1," Clifford said. "We have to have more readiness to play. And a lot of it frankly was basic principles. We've got to set a tone higher on the floor with ball pressure. We've got to be earlier with our talk, better with our organization, be more physical, ready to play. We've got to take their strengths away. We started the game closing short to [Luol] Deng twice, whose a 37 percent three-point [shooter]. Thos are plays that have to be made every time that we've been good at all year. We were 1.02 points per possession for the year [defensively]. We were the ninth best defense in the NBA and it was out of character for us and they took full advantage of it."