Hornets win fourth-straight game and get above .500 for the first time since February

By Chase Whitney

March 20, 2022

Photo: Rusty Jones / AP

The last week-and-a-half of Charlotte Hornets basketball can be easily described: the offense is back.

Since losing to Boston on March 9, the Hornets have ripped off four-straight victories, scoring at least 116 points and winning by 10 or more points each game. Saturday’s blowout of the Mavericks brought Charlotte above the .500 mark for the first time since February 11, buoyed by a return to their trademark efficient floor-spacing, along with an improved defense.

A week in review

The streak began with a 22-point blowout on the road in New Orleans for Raleigh native Devonte’ Graham’s first matchup against his former team. Miles Bridges neared a triple-double with 26 points, nine assists and eight rebounds while Terry Rozier followed with 25 points and eight assists. Montrezl Harrell, Cody Martin, Kelly Oubre Jr. and Isaiah Thomas all scored in double figures off the bench and the Hornets shot 22-47 (46.8 percent) from three-point range as a team.

Oklahoma City put up 41 points on the Hornets in the first quarter, but it was smooth sailing for the final three frames. Rozier led the way with 30 points on 11-17 shooting, adding six boards and four assists. Bridges had 27 points and six assists, making five triples in the process. LaMelo Ball added 21 points, five rebounds and seven assists, helping pace the offense.

After trailing by five at halftime, Charlotte held Atlanta to 39 second-half points in a come-from-behind win over a potential play-in tournament foe. The win tied the season series with the Hawks, giving the Hornets a better chance to earn the tiebreaker come mid-April if the Hornets and Hawks are tied in the standings after 82 games. Ball turned in 22 points, 11 assists and eight rebounds while Harrell recorded his fourth 20-point game off the bench since arriving in Buzz City with 20 points and six rebounds.

The Hornets came out of the gates on a 22-6 run against Dallas and never looked back. Jalen Brunson and Luka Doncic led the Mavs on a second-quarter run, but timely shooting from Oubre and PJ Washington got the Hornets back ahead by nine at halftime. Extending the lead to 32 points at one point in the fourth quarter, Bridges’ 23 points and eight rebounds along with Washington’s 21 helped them coast down the stretch in a dominant win. 

What’s ahead for the Hornets?

The Pelicans visit The Hive to complete the season series that began last week in New Orleans. Graham makes his first return to Charlotte since being traded in the offseason. The five-game homestand rounds out with matchups against Utah and New York before the Hornets head to Brooklyn for a one-game road trip.

The Pelicans went on a four-game win-streak soon after acquiring McCollum, but haven’t been successful since it ended. They’ve lost five out of seven and have been a bottom-10 defense in the league over that stretch. To make matters worse, Brandon Ingram has been out with a hamstring injury since March 6. Hopefully Graham gets a nice tribute video in his return.

The Knicks haven’t been mathematically eliminated from play-in contention, but a five-game gap between them and the 10th place will be tough to overcome. RJ Barrett is averaging a career-high 19.5 points per game and has only scored fewer than 20 points in a game once post All-Star break. Kemba Walker, who is not with the team, is actually working out in Charlotte to prepare for the 2022-23 season.

The Jazz aren’t quite experiencing the regular-season dominance they’ve become accustomed to in recent years. Utah is still a good team, but they sit three games above the playoff cut line in fourth right now with Dallas, Denver and Minnesota all playing well in the last few weeks. The Jazz have the best offense in the NBA and are one of three teams (Memphis, Phoenix) to rank in the top-10 in both offensive and defensive rating.

What to watch for 

How fun is it to watch an elite offense on a nightly basis again? The Hornets have the second-best offense in the league post All-Star break, trailing only the scorching-hot Timberwolves. As a team, they’ve shot 40 percent from beyond the arc since the break, led by Rozier with a crazy efficient 47.4 percent on 8.6 attempts per game. Ball, Bridges, Oubre, Thomas and Washington all attempt at least 5.8 threes per game, with Thomas leading the bunch at 45.5 percent and Washington rounding it out at 35.9 percent. Washington has also hit 7-13 from deep in the last two games while Cody Martin is still at 40 percent on the season, albeit on low volume. 

James Borrego and the players never strayed from the offensive identity during a month-long rough patch, continuing to shoot threes and push the pace, and it has paid off during this short streak. Rhythm seems to have been restored.

With 11 games remaining, the Hornets are likely safe from falling out of the play-in entirely, but seeding is up for grabs. Charlotte is three-and-a-half games behind the seventh-place Raptors, so barring a collapse north of the border, the Hornets are jostling with the Nets and Hawks. Brooklyn is one game up, Atlanta is a half-game down and the Hornets are sandwiched at ninth. It should be a fun final stretch to the end of the regular season. 

Check out the remaining 2021-22 Charlotte Hornets schedule.

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