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Hornets stay hot, beat Wizards

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WASHINGTON — The Washington Wizards are in the midst of their roughest stretch of the season. The surging, but shorthanded Charlotte Hornets took advantage.

Center Al Jefferson scored 18 points and 12 rebounds, and guard Brian Roberts added 18 points as the Charlotte Hornets defeated the Washington Wizards 92-88 Monday night.

Forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist finished with 13 points and 13 rebounds for the Hornets (21-27). Charlotte led throughout and pushed back any rally attempts by holding their Southeast Division rival to 37 points in the second half.

Guard Bradley Beal had 18 points and 11 rebounds, and guard John Wall had 16 points and 10 assists for the Wizards (31-18). Washington matched its season-worst, three-game losing streak, and it has dropped three in a row at home for the first time this season.

The Wizards are 9-10 over their past 19 games after starting 22-8.

“We haven’t been the same team that got up on other teams, that was physical and just made it tough on them,” Beal said in Washington’s disheartened locker room. “We’re pretty soft right now.”

Charlotte is rather hot right now and surprisingly so. The Hornets are 11-3 since Jan. 3 and 3-1 since learning starting guard Kemba Walker required surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his left knee.

Even the head coach admitted surprise with the recent performances.

“Yeah. What I like is you see an intensity and togetherness about the group that has allowed us to play well,” Hornets coach Steve Clifford said. “I think everybody understands how much (Kemba) means to our team and I think everybody is taking it upon themselves to play well.”

Guard Gerald Henderson finished with 17 points for the Hornets.

Even recent wins for the Wizards involved notable struggles. Washington trailed by 12 points in the second half Monday, marking the fourth straight game it was down by at least a dozen points. The Wizards went without a field goal for over five minutes in the fourth quarter.

“The key tonight was that we don’t play hard anymore,” Wizards coach Randy Wittman stated.

Wittman took the blame for the recent dip, but doled out some harsh truths as well.

“Being a good team is hard,” said the coach of the third-place team in the Eastern Conference. “It’s a grind. February 2nd, nobody feels good and we are feeling sorry for ourselves.”

Leading 53-51 at halftime, the Hornets opened the third quarter with a 10-0 run, holding the Wizards without a point for nearly six minutes.

Washington closed the quarter with eight straight points. Beal’s dunk pulled the Wizards within 76-74 with 6:37 left, but then Washington went cold.

Kidd-Gilchrist’s jumper capped a 10-4 spurt to put the Hornets up 86-78 with 1:44 remaining.

After going without a field goal for five minutes and one second, Washington surged back. Forward Paul Pierce’s 3-pointer reduced the deficit to 90-88 with 11.9 seconds remaining. But Roberts made two free throws with 10.4 seconds left.

Charlotte held Washington to 40.7 percent shooting from the field.

“That is going to be our identity,” Henderson said of Charlotte’s defense.

Same for Washington most of this season. Yet over the last five games, opponents are averaging 58 points in the first half. The Wizards fell to 25-2 when holding opponents under 100 points.

Forward Kris Humphries scored 13 points and Pierce 11 for Washington. The frontcourt of Pierce, center Marcin Gortat and forward Nene did not attempt a single free throw.

“Biggest thing I think is we’re not focused enough,” Beal said. “We’re not hungry. We’re not the same team we were in training camp and to start the year off. I don’t think we have the same heart and desire to prove ourselves and put teams away and show we’re about business. I think we’ve definitely taken several steps back these last five games, especially defensively.”

NOTES: G Gary Neal scored 12 points for the Hornets. C Bismack Biyombo missed his third consecutive game with a right knee bone bruise. … Wizards F Kris Humphries averaged 12.5 points and 13.3 rebounds off the bench over the previous four games. The reserve big man turned into a fourth-quarter stalwart in that stretch, often playing over starter Marcin Gortat. … By sinking a 3-pointer on his first shot attempt, Wizards F Paul Pierce passed Alex English for 15th on the NBA’s all-time scoring list. … Wizards guard Andre Miller, the oldest NBA player in uniform this season, did not play for the first time this season. … Charlotte is off until Thursday, when Washington visits. … The Wizards play at the Atlanta Hawks on Wednesday.

Up to the minute news and reports from the news wire of The Sports Xchange.

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