Hornets look for consistency as the team gets back into a rhythm and full strength

By Chase Whitney

January 6, 2022

Photo: Jacob Kupferman / AP

The Charlotte Hornets have turned the page to 2022, and as we settle into the New Year, the team is finally getting back towards full health with only Vernon Carey Jr. remaining in health and safety protocols. This week, the team will play it’s 41st game, officially marking the halfway point of the 2021-22 season– the sample sizes are more than large enough at this point for fans and front office staff alike to really get a grip on the Hornets’ tendencies and potential. It’s been up-and-down since our last recap. Let’s run through it all.

A week in review

The Hornets closed out the holiday season with a three-game win-streak over the Nuggets, Rockets and Pacers. Jalen McDaniels threw down a couple of nasty dunks and Kelly Oubre Jr. hit five three-pointers to help take down Denver. Terry Rozier’s 27 points led a blowout against Houston at home, and LaMelo Ball posted a near-triple-double with 21 points, 12 rebounds and nine assists to give Charlotte their third win over Indiana this season.

The first few days of 2022 were not kind to the Hornets. On Jan. 2, the Phoenix Suns came into the Spectrum Center fresh off of a loss to Boston and promptly shellacked the Hornets, handing them a 34-point loss, their largest margin of defeat this season. Former Hornet Bismack Biyombo was signed by the Suns a day before making his season debut in Charlotte and put up 11 points, six boards, a steal, and a block in 18 minutes. Phoenix was missing DeAndre Ayton, but it didn’t matter– Biyombo and Jalen Smith (19 points, 12 rebounds) manhandled the Hornets.

Miles Bridges and Gordon Hayward turned in All-Star-caliber performances against the Wizards, but fourth-quarter heaters from Bradley Beal and Kyle Kuzma edged Washington to a narrow win. Hayward posted 27 points, eight rebounds and four assists while Bridges finished with 23 points, 14 rebounds, four assists and four steals. Rozier had 25 points, 16 of which came in the fourth, to go with five boards, three dimes and three steals.

Charlotte’s first wire-to-wire dominating win of the season came against Detroit on Jan. 5. Highlighted by Oubre’s franchise-record-setting and near NBA record-tying fourth quarter where he hit 8 of 9 threes, five other Hornets scored in double figures with Bridges and Hayward each chipping in 19 points. Ball tallied 12 points, eight rebounds and 12 assists. PJ Washington returned from health and safety protocols to drop 14 points, eight rebounds and four assists on 4-of-6 shooting.

What’s ahead for the Hornets?

The Hornets put themselves back above the .500-mark when they beat the Pistons, but staying above it will be a difficult task with the Milwaukee Bucks coming to town for a two-game series on Jan. 8 and 10. Charlotte heads to Philadelphia for a one-off road game against the 76ers on Jan. 12, and then the division rival Magic visits the Queen City on Jan. 14.

By all accounts, the reigning champ Bucks are just as good of a team as they were last season. They’re one of three teams in the top-8 in both offensive and defensive rating (Phoenix, Utah) and Giannis Antetokounmpo continues to put up video game-like averages of 27.9 points, 11.5 rebounds, 5.9 assists, 1.1 steals and 1.5 blocks per game while Jrue Holiday and Khris Middleton are both north of 18 and five assists per game. 

The 76ers fell to 16-16 in late-December but have since ripped off five-straight wins to climb back up the ladder in the Eastern Conference. Joel Embiid, who dominated the Hornets with a 43-point, 15-rebound, 7-assist game on 15-20 from the field and 12-14 from the stripe back on Dec. 6, is putting up 26.7 points and 10.7 rebounds per game this season. Philadelphia’s size and strength on the interior has been an issue for Charlotte for years and it’s not likely to be any different this time around, but thankfully PJ Washington should be fully reconditioned by then.

With a record of 7-32 at the time this article was published, Orlando has the worst winning percentage (.179) in the NBA combined with a bottom-five offense and defense. They’re not a good team, but they’ve got loads of talented young guys and they all play hard. Cole Anthony has grown into a 20-point per game scorer in his second year and Franz Wagner has hands-down been one of the five best rookies this season. Wendell Carter Jr. is ninth in the NBA in double-doubles this season with 19, per StatMuse, and the twin towers frontcourt pairing of Carter and Mo Bamba has worked surprisingly well.

What to watch for from the Hornets this week

The Hornets aren’t the worst defense in the NBA anymore! With some decent two-way performances against Denver, Detroit, Houston and Indiana, they’ve vaulted all the way up to 28th in defensive rating (113.7). The team being fully healthy for the first time in just under a month and hitting a lighter portion of the schedule certainly helped, but it also seems the lapses in effort are less frequent. 

Remember to vote for Ball, Bridges, Hayward and Rozier for the NBA All-Star game! Votes can be cast via Twitter (for example, #MilesBridges #NBAAllStar), NBA.com or the NBA app. The first fan voting update was given on Jan. 6., and Ball is fifth among East guards while Bridges is eighth among East frontcourt players. Voting closes at midnight on Jan. 22, so get those ballots in while you can. 

Check out the remaining 2021-22 Charlotte Hornets schedule.

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