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Ailing Charlotte Hornets need to turn things around quickly if they hope to make playoffs

Going into the season, the Charlotte Hornets seemed like a sure thing to make the playoffs. Three of last year’s Eastern Conference playoff teams – Atlanta, Chicago and Indiana – had lost All-Stars over the summer. Last season’s Hornets had the conference’s seventh best point differential, and better late-game luck, along with continuity and improved defense (with the addition of Dwight Howard), should have had them back in the 42-45 win range this season.

Charlotte has played one of the league’s toughest schedules, with 15 of its 24 games having been against teams that currently have winning records. After missing Nicolas Batum for the first 12 games, the Hornets are now dealing with injuries to Frank Kaminsky, Jeremy Lamb and Cody Zeller, as well as the absence of head coach Steve Clifford. But it’s getting late early for this team, now 9-15 after losing to the 4-20 Chicago Bulls for the second time this season on Friday. The Hornets rank 20th offensively, and the defense (12th in the league) hasn’t been up to their standards.

The Charlotte Observer‘s Rick Bonnell had some thoughts in the aftermath of Friday’s loss

Weeks before training camp began, Hornets coach Steve Clifford said this was the most talented roster in his now four-plus seasons in Charlotte.

Where is that team? How does a group with a sure-bet Hall of Fame center and a shooting guard with a near-maximum contract and an All-Star point guard look this flawed and fragile?

How have the Hornets managed to lose twice to a Chicago Bulls team with four total victories this season?

The 9-15 Hornets’ 119-111 loss Friday was their sixth in the last seven games. They were billed as having the makings of a top-5 defensive team. Elite defensive teams do not give up 50-plus points in the lane. The Bulls – these Bulls, not the champions Hornets owner Michael Jordan once made famous – scored 56 points in the paint. It felt like 106.