WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 2: Al Jefferson #25 of the Charlotte Hornets shoots against the Washington Wizards on February 2, 2015 at the Verizon Center in Washington, DC. (Photo by Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images)
AP Photo
February 02, 2015

WASHINGTON (AP) Here's something you probably didn't see coming: The Charlotte Hornets are one of the hottest teams of the new year, even after losing Kemba Walker, while the Washington Wizards are suddenly facing chemistry issues.

Or, as coach Randy Wittman put it: ''We don't play hard anymore.''

Charlotte's hot January carried over into Groundhog Day on Monday night with a 92-88 win over the Wizards. Al Jefferson had 18 points and 12 rebounds, and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist added 13 points and 13 rebounds for the Hornets, who have won six of eight to work themselves into playoff position in the perpetually middling Eastern Conference.

The Hornets went 10-4 in January, and are 5-1 without Walker, who has a knee injury that will keep him sidelined at least six more weeks. His replacement, Brian Roberts was the leading scorer with 18 points on Monday, and Gerald Henderson put in 17. Cody Zeller, who had a career-high 21 points in the previous game, scored just two against the Wizards.

''We have a couple of guys who are going to have to score every night,'' Charlotte coach Steve Clifford said. ''Al's going to have to score, I believe Gerald will score every night, and then I think it'll be different guys different nights.''

John Wall, who continues to battle a sprained right ankle and migraine-like headaches that give him an aversion to bright light - not a good scenario for anyone in an NBA arena - scored 16 points on 4-for-14 shooting with 10 assists for the Wizards, who have dropped three straight and are 9-9 since late December.

''The key to tonight was that we don't play hard anymore,'' Wittman said, his voice rising. ''That falls on me. I'll take that. We point fingers, and until we all get on the same page and come out and play hard for 48 minutes, and look at yourself in the mirror and say, `What can I do more?' rather than point our finger and say, `It's not me,' that's where we are at. ... There are some good teams in this league that can get away with maybe coasting for a half, but we are not one of them.''

Bradley Beal led Washington with 18 points and a season-high 11 rebounds.

''We are not hungry,'' Beal said. ''We are not the same team we were coming into training camp and to start the year off. I don't think we still have that same heart and desire to prove ourselves and put teams away and show that we are still about business. I think we definitely took several steps back in these last five games.''

Wall, meanwhile, refused to use his maladies as an excuse. Once again, he averted his eyes from the television lights while speaking with reporters after the game.

''When I step between those lines, I'm competing,'' Wall said. ''I don't care what I'm going through. When I step between those lines, I put the uniform on, no matter what I'm dealing with, I'm going to give my best effort I can give.''

The Wizards trailed by six with a minute to play, but Paul Pierce hit a mid-range jumper and Wall converted a three-point play after a hard-collision with Jefferson while driving to the basket for a layup. Washington then forced a shot-clock violation with 22 seconds remaining, but Wall missed an open layup that would have cut the lead to one.

Henderson and Roberts then each made a pair of free throws to put the game away.

---

TIP-INS

Hornets: F Marvin Williams returned after missing two games with a concussion. ... It will be a home-and-home, back-to-back for the Hornets - but not for the Wizards - when the teams play again Thursday in Charlotte. Charlotte gets two days off, while Washington has a road trip to Atlanta on Wednesday.

Wizards: Slumping C Marcin Gortat shaved his Mohawk and declared on Twitter before the game that he was ready for a ''fresh start.'' It didn't have much effect. He went 2 for 6 from the field and played only two minutes in the fourth quarter. ''The way I'm playing right now, I kind of understand why I'm not playing,'' Gortat said. ... Pierce moved past Alex English into 15th on the all-time scoring list with a 3-pointer in the first period. Pierce has 25,622 career points. ... Fs Kevin Seraphin and DeJuan Blair were game-time decisions because of illness, but both played.

UP NEXT

Hornets: Host Wizards on Thursday.

Wizards: Visit Hawks on Wednesday.

---

Follow Joseph White on Twitter: http://twitter.com/JGWhiteAP

You May Like