The Hornets have won seven of their last eight games and are looking like a top team in the conference

By Chase Whitney

November 25, 2021

Photo: Matt Kelley / AP

The Hornets have gone 7-1 over the last eight games and the vibes around the franchise right now are as positive as they’ve been in recent memory. Kicking off their five-game winning streak against the Knicks in Kemba Walker’s return and taking down the league’s best team (Golden State) in Stephen Curry’s return to his hometown, the Hornets are rolling. With improved defense and Terry Rozier reemerging as the team’s go-to guy in clutch time, it’s gonna be thrilling to see how this season will unfold.  

A week in review

When the Hornets beat the Wizards last week– who at the time were the No. 1 team in the East– Charlotte held Washington to 87 points, marking the third time the team held an opponent under 100 points prior to Wednesday night’s game against the Magic. Six Hornets scored in double figures in the first of two games against the Wizards in five days with Terry Rozier’s 19 points and eight rebounds leading the way.

For the second time this season, Charlotte eked out a win over the Indiana Pacers to extend their five-game winning streak. Although they gave up 33 points in the fourth quarter after being in control for a large part of the game, LaMelo Ball finished with 32 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists while Gordon Hayward added 25 points on 9-15 shooting and 6-7 from the free-throw line.

The streak ended in Atlanta against the Hawks in the first of a three-game road swing. Miles Bridges posted 35 points and 10 boards while Ball recorded a triple-double with 15 points, 10 rebounds and 11 assists, but the Hawks offense has found its footing after a rough start to the season, shooting 52.4% against the Hornets and winning six straight games. 

Rozier had his best game of the season in Charlotte’s second matchup against the Wizards in less than a week, putting up 32 points and four assists on 11-19 from the field, including 8-11 from long range. Ball chipped in an impressive 28 points, 13 rebounds, seven assists, and three steals as the Hornets’ backcourt carried the offensive load for the team. A late 28-15 run by Washington brought the Wizards back in the fourth, but Rozier’s clutch gene kicked in and sealed the victory. 

To cap off the road trip, the Hornets pulled out a win in Orlando on Wednesday night despite poor showings from Ball, Bridges and Hayward. Rozier put up 27 points, five assists and six steals while Oubre Jr. added 21 points off the bench with Cody Martin and Jalen McDaniels bolstering the Hornets’ defense. The Hornets shot poorly for most of the game, but the impressive defensive effort (11 blocks and 11 steals) saved them from what could’ve been a tough loss.

What’s ahead for the Hornets?

The Hornets return home for a matchup with Minnesota on Friday and then head out for another road trip starting with visits to Houston, Chicago and Milwaukee. 

The Timberwolves have won five games in-a-row and are quietly the NBA’s fourth-best defense (104.0 defensive rating). Karl-Anthony Towns (22.7) and Anthony Edwards (22.8) are both averaging over 22 points per game and Towns is maintaining his reputation as one of the league’s best shooting bigs, hitting 44.2 percent of his 6.3 3-point attempts per game. Jarred Vanderbilt has emerged as an elite defender, ranking in the 62nd percentile in block percentage (2.0) and the 91st percentile in steal percentage (2.4), per Cleaning The Glass– he’s a big part of Minnesota’s improved defense.

The 2-16 Houston Rockets are the worst team in the NBA and have the 30th-ranked offense (98.1 offensive rating), mostly due to the fact that with John Wall sitting out the season, they have zero point guards on the roster. Kevin Porter Jr. missed games due to injury and Jalen Green, despite flashing elite potential as a wing creator, isn’t ready to carry a winning team yet. Christian Wood is averaging a double-double with 15.5 points and 11 rebounds.

Behind All-Star caliber seasons from the newly-acquired DeMar DeRozan and the newly defensively-inclined Zach LaVine, Chicago has been one of the best and most entertaining teams in the league this season. They boast a top-10 defense (105.3 defensive rating) anchored by Lonzo Ball– who is also shooting 43.8 percent on 6.7 long-range attempts per game— as well as Alex Caruso. The Bulls also have the second-best scoring offense in isolation settings (1.04 points per possession).

To kick off the month of December, the Hornets will face a defending-champion Bucks team that has slowly rejuvenated over the last couple weeks. Milwaukee got hit by Covid-19 protocols and were very unhealthy to start the year, resulting currently in a 11-8 record. Giannis Antetokounmpo has been his usual MVP-level self, leading the Bucks in almost every stat category with 27.2 points, 11.7 rebounds, 5.9 assists, 1.2 steals and 1.9 blocks per game while Jrue Holiday and Khris Middleton are getting their legs under them. The Bucks have also been without Brook Lopez since the opener, but he should be returning by the time they play the Hornets on December 1. 

What to watch for

Defense has been the key throughout this 7-1 stretch. The Hornets currently rank 21st in defensive rating (109.0) on the season, but over the last eight games they rank fourth (102.5). Miles Bridges has done a serviceable job as a versatile defender that can handle switching or drop coverage schemes in his small-ball center minutes while Jalen McDaniels, Cody Martin and Nick Richards are all filling their roles well. If the defense holds up and the Hornets settle in around league-average on that end of the floor, the wins should keep coming.

LaMelo Ball has lived up to the hype this season. He leads the team in rebounds (7.8 per game) and assists (7.5 per game), ranking second on the team in scoring (19.9 points per game) and shooting 38.8% from deep on a heavy diet of pull-up three-point attempts (3.3 per game). Ball has also improved mightily as a defender, particularly navigating pick-and-roll actions on the perimeter. Over the last five games, Ball is just short of averaging a triple-double with 21.6 points, 8.6 rebounds and 8.8 assists. The kid is simply a joy to watch.

Check out the remaining 2021-22 Charlotte Hornets schedule.

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