Southeast Notes: Clifford, Windler, Houstan, Bagley, Vukcevic

Steve Clifford has seen a lot of losing since returning to the Hornets‘ sidelines last season, but Saturday’s blowout in Atlanta stood out because of a lack of competitiveness from his team, writes Roderick Boone of The Charlotte Observer. Charlotte dropped its fourth straight game in the midst of a 17-53 season, and Clifford was upset that his players didn’t fight back after falling behind early.

“As soon as we started subbing, our intensity went downhill and we never really got it back,” he said. “That was just as poor an effort, and just for a team that’s tried all year, we didn’t try very hard. We’re not going to be able to do that. I thought Miles (Bridges) was really good. And in terms of effort, it ended there.”

When Clifford became the Hornets’ coach last season, he inherited a team that was already off to a rough start in its rebuilding process. None of its draft picks from 2021 panned out — including first-rounders Kai Jones and James Bouknight — which creates a difficult situation for a franchise that’s not in position to attract top free agent talent.

“I remember we used to say all the time, ‘It gets late early in the NBA,’” Clifford said. “You bring a guy in who had been in college four years and he doesn’t play well in his first year, those guys would be gone. But you’re crazy to do that now because the guys are so young. Everything used to be, you drafted in performance. Now, you’re drafting by potential and it’s much, much harder. Younger players are not as ready to play, and it makes it harder on coaches, but it makes it much, much harder on management.”

There’s more from the Southeast Division:

  • Injuries have forced the Hawks to go deep into their bench, notes Lauren Williams of The Journal-Constitution. That included 19 minutes Saturday night for Dylan Windler, who made his home debut after signing a two-way contract earlier this month. “I felt pretty comfortable for the most part,” Windler said. “Obviously, I haven’t had any live extended minutes like that in a while. So, it just feels good to get up and down for a little bit, try to get my legs back. But for the most part it felt comfortable. Just trying to add a little bit of energy to us, add a spark, crash the boards hard and make shots for us.”
  • Caleb Houstan made a rare start for the Magic on Saturday with Gary Harris unavailable due to a right plantar fascia strain, per Jason Beede of The Orlando Sentinel. However, the second-year small forward experienced soreness in his left ankle and didn’t play in the second half. Coach Jamahl Mosley said Houstan will be evaluated today.
  • Wizards big man Marvin Bagley III returned Saturday after missing nearly three weeks with lower back spasms, according to Stephen Whyno of The Associated Press. Tristan Vukcevic, who signed with Washington 11 days ago, played three minutes in his NBA debut. “It was amazing, a dream come true,” Vukcevic told Chase Hughes of Monumental Sports Network (video link).
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