Frustration evident on his face, understanding the opportunity that slipped through their grasp, Terry Rozier expressed his sincere disappointment with how things transpired for the Charlotte Hornets in Washington on Sunday afternoon.
"It just sucks because we battled through a lot of stuff this year as did every team,” Rozier said. "It just sucks. I just really want everybody to understand that when you get to playoffs and you get the feeling, it doesn't matter of you are the seventh or eighth seed against the one or two seed and you lose all four games. Just to be in that atmosphere, it just builds you up for the summer and trying to change this whole organization around. So it just sucks that we fell short today. Obviously, I’m pretty pissed about it. But obviously in this league you’ve got to move on and thank God we get another chance."
But, man, is it a hard road. Their stomach-churning 115-110 loss to Washington, a game in which they led by 11 points going into the fourth quarter and were up by as many as 16, combined with Indiana's season-ending victory over Toronto means not only did they squander their golden chance to secure the eighth seed.
The Hornets dropped down to the 10th spot, meaning they will have to win at least two games on the road just to regain possession of that eighth position and advance to a first-round matchup with top-seeded Philadelphia. That difficult quest begins at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday against the Pacers in Indianapolis. The Hornets need to beat Indiana for the right to play the loser of Tuesday night's matchup between Boston and Washington. Winner gets the eighth seed. That game takes place at 8 p.m. Thursday in either Boston or Washington.
Not Charlotte. That's why the disappointment was so palpable.
"It's the same feeling from when you are three (years old) playing, seven playing," LaMelo Ball said. "A game like that is big. You feel it obviously. And just losing like that you are for sure going to be down if you love the game. Everybody right now is down, but we know we've got another one and we’ve got to win this next game and put it past us. Try to win the next game and come back here or Boston, however it goes. Just get the wins now."
For that to happen, they might have to alter their attack plan in the closing minutes. In three of their five straight losses to conclude the season, they couldn't hold on to a fourth-quarter lead. They've gone from being one of the most effective teams in clutch time to one that can't seem to seal the outcome and make enough plays consistently to keep things in their favor late in the fourth quarter.
"I felt like we were more unpredictable," Rozier said. "Now we are too predictable. I’m going to leave it at that."
Ball didn't disagree when asked for his assessment of Rozier's eyebrow-raising thoughts.
"He said predictable?" Ball said. "Yeah, I for sure see where he's coming from. But at the end of the day, you've got to go out there and it's five-on-five. Just play basketball."
Luckily for the Hornets, despite all their recent struggles, they are technically still not out of it and can reverse some of their mounting late-game issues. They have something dangling in front of them.
“For sure,” Ball said. “That’s how I’m looking at it. Go handle business where ever we go next. Then from there go wherever and handle business for real.”
In the meantime, the Hornets have to just hope these gloomy moments strung across the landscape of the tail end of their season translate into something more significant on Tuesday and further down the line.
"The pain makes you better," coach James Borrego said. "If you watched ‘The Last Dance’ documentary, our owner, he had to go through this. Greatest of all time. He had to find ways to overcome and get better. I will always point back to this time, this moment at the appropriate time for our guys as we move forward into next season. But we’ve still got basketball to play. But this should fuel us only to get better and to get back here. We’ve got to go win a game on Tuesday night and that should fuel us. We want to be back here or in Boston on Thursday and continue our season."
Quotable: "Down the stretch I feel like we could have did a lot of things better. Just simple stuff. We were missing some of our shots. At the end of the day, just taking away that. You've got to play harder, we've got to be more efficient. You've got to make the right plays, you've got to do the right stuff. Just little things." -- LaMelo Ball on what he'll take from Sunday's loss
Noteworthy: Miles Bridges swatted a career-high four shots, serving as a force on the interior. Three of those came in the first quarter when he set the tone early.