Hornets hammer Wizards 133-109 in Clifford’s return
CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Nic Batum said it felt like old times having coach Steve Clifford back on the bench Wednesday night.
“Even when we were up 25 points, he was still screaming at us, still wasn’t happy,” Batum said with a laugh. “He wasn’t happy after the game either. I missed him a lot. It’s cool to have him back.”
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist scored 21 points, Dwight Howard had another double-double and the Charlotte Hornets used a record-setting first half to beat the Washington Wizards 133-109 in Clifford’s first game since Dec. 1. Clifford returned after missing 21 games because of headaches caused by sleep deprivation .
The 56-year-old Clifford said it was great to be back and his focus is squarely on winning. The Hornets were 9-21 in Clifford’s absence and had fallen eight games under .500.
“The newness or whatever excitement wears off because we need to win these games,” Clifford said. “I mean this is important, this stretch of home games. Physically, I feel really good — but we need to win, so that’s the best thing.”
The Hornets made 12 of their first 13 shots and scored a franchise-record 77 points in the first half to build a 16-point lead. They extended that to 28 in the second half in a game that was never close.
Kemba Walker had 19 points, Howard had 18 points and 15 rebounds and Jeremy Lamb had 16 points for the Hornets, who won for the fifth time in their last seven games.
The Hornets shot 65 percent from the field in the first half, including a pair of four-point plays from Walker and Marvin Williams.
“They had everything. Everything they wanted they had,” Wizards coach Scott Brooks said. “Give them credit, they were playing great basketball. Good to have coach Cliff back and I’m sure they were inspired by it and they played well. They made shots, they moved the ball, and they competed.”
Bradley Beal had 26 points for the Wizards, whose five-game road trip got off to a rocky start.
Brooks was upset with his team’s play and suggested changes are coming.
“You just have to find guys that are going to compete,” Brooks said. “It’s not about nothing else. It’s not about shots. It’s not about how many minutes. It’s not about how many shots you get. It’s about competing. We all get paid to compete, regardless.”
Wizards: Have allowed at least 100 points in 16 straight games. ... Were outscored 50-30 in the paint.
Hornets: The 10 straight field goals made to start the game are the most to start a game since 2002-03. ... With a 23-point lead in the fourth quarter, Hornets fans started chanting “We want (Malik) Monk.” Clifford put the rookie in with four minutes to play and he hit a 3-pointer.
Charlotte’s Michael Carter-Williams and Washington’s Tim Frazier were given double technical fouls and ejected after an altercation with four minutes remaining in the game.
It started when Jason Smith fouled Carter-Williams, who went to retaliate before Frazier stepped in the middle.
“I thought they were getting cheap shots a little bit,” Carter-Williams said. “I don’t think I should have gotten ejected from the game — one tech is probably deserving. It is what it is. I think the game got a little out of hand. Things happen.”
With the Wizards down by 20, Brooks elected to have Howard, a 52 percent free-throw shooter, come off the bench to shoot Carter-Williams’ free throws. With the crowd booing Brooks’ decision, Howard walked on to the floor and sank both free throws. He glanced over at the Wizards bench and raised his palms incredulously as if to say, “Why?”
The crowd roared with delight after Howard made both shots, and Clifford quickly removed him from the game.
The teams played in front a sparse crowd because of the wintry weather that has gripped Charlotte, which led to most schools being closed. Across town, the Charlotte Checkers of the American Hockey League played in an empty arena because the game was closed to fans due to the wintry mix.
Wizards: Visit Detroit on Friday.
Hornets: Host Miami on Saturday.
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