CHARLOTTE, N.C. — It might be too little, too late, but this is the way the Charlotte Hornets wanted to play all season.
The Hornets continued their mastery of the Atlanta Hawks with a 105-90 victory Monday night at the Spectrum Center, and they looked more like a playoff team than the Hawks.
Charlotte (31-39) shot 50 percent from the field, committed only one turnover through three quarters, and put together the kind of defensive effort that coach Steve Clifford has been wanting all along.
Coupled with a 98-93 win over the Washington Wizards on Saturday, the Hornets have now won two straight and are holding onto a sliver of hope in the Eastern Conference playoff race. They are still in 11th place in the East, but they trail No. 8 Detroit by just three games with 12 remaining and are coming into a favorable stretch in the schedule.
“It’s not like everybody’s got to play perfect, but everybody’s got to have the right purpose of play, and when we do that (we’re good),” Clifford said. “Our strength is we’re smart. We’re skilled and we’re smart. But that’s only going to show through when you have the right concentration, the right intensity, the right approach. These last two games, we’ve had that.”
Nicolas Batum and Kemba Walker led a balanced Charlotte attack with 16 points apiece, with both sitting out down the stretch after the Hornets built a 23-point lead.
The Hornets also got 14 points from Frank Kaminsky, 13 points and eight rebounds from Marvin Williams, 12 points from Jeremy Lamb, nine points from Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, and eight points apiece from Cody Zeller and Briante Weber.
“We just need to continue to play the way we’ve been playing,” Williams said. “If we defend the way we’ve been defending consistently, I think we’ll give ourselves a good chance. … We still believe that we can get in. We know we have a small margin for error, but everybody still believes that we can make it to the postseason, so we’re going to go out there and play like it every night.”
The Hornets assumed control with a 15-2 run to open the second quarter, and they never trailed the rest of the way. The biggest lead came at 91-68.
“For us, when we’ve defended, we’re low-turnover, we play inside-out, we’re good,” Clifford said. “The challenge has been doing that night after night after night.”
The Hawks (37-33) lost their fifth straight, though they still hold the fifth spot in the Eastern Conference.
They were without starters Paul Millsap (knee) and Kent Bazemore (knee), a pair who were sorely missed. The Hawks committed 18 turnovers, and they got little from the bench until the game was well out of hand. Charlotte’s bench outscored the Hawks’ bench 43-22.
“Credit to Charlotte, they played well tonight,” Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer said. “We have to get better. I think it’s more than just looking for a way to make up for Paul. Obviously, he’s a big part of what we do and a good player. I think just collectively, we all have to be better.”
Dennis Schroder led the Hawks with 20 points. Dwight Howard had 13 points and 10 rebounds, Ersan Ilyasova also scored 13, and Thabo Sefolosha, Tim Hardaway Jr. and Taurean Prince scored 11 apiece.
“If we don’t pick it up, then we lose,” Howard said. “It’s that simple.”
NOTES: Hawks G Mike Dunleavy (ankle) was active after missing the previous 10 games, but he did not play. … The Hornets were without G Ramon Sessions (knee), C Miles Plumlee (calf) and F Johnny O’Bryant (ankle). … Hornets F Michael Kidd-Gilchrist sprained an ankle in the first half and wound up sitting out the entire fourth quarter with the game well in hand. … The Hornets signed G Briante Weber to a multiyear contract on Monday. Weber previously signed two 10-day contracts and worked his way into the rotation. … The Hornets are now 9-3 within the Southeast Division, which is the best record in the division. … The Hornets won 100-96 in Charlotte on Nov. 18 and 107-99 in Atlanta on Dec. 17. The teams will meet one more time, in Atlanta on April 11. … The Hawks were opening a three-game road trip. They will play at Washington on Wednesday. … The Hornets will play at Orlando on Wednesday.