The Charlotte Hornets are off to their best start in franchise history despite tough loss to the Celtics

 By Chase Whitney

October 26, 2021

Photo: Jacob Kupferman / AP

Not a bad start to the 2021-22 season for the Charlotte Hornets– the best in franchise history, to be exact. The Hornets went 3-0 for the first time ever and took the Celtics to overtime before suffering their first loss of the season on Monday. Let’s unpack the first week of the new season.

A week in review

On opening night, Charlotte exacted revenge on the Indiana Pacers after suffering a play-in tournament drubbing way back in May. LaMelo Ball’s 31-point, nine-rebound, seven-assist, two-steal performance started the season off on a high note, with crucial rotation members like Miles Bridges, Gordon Hayward and PJ Washington all having a hand in the one-point victory.

Terry Rozier’s lone appearance of the season came in game two against his hometown Cavaliers, but he played just under 23 minutes before suffering his second ankle sprain of the season. Miles Bridges came out with the first of two-straight 30-point games, leading him to an Eastern Conference Player of the Week award. Kelly Oubre Jr. had the best game of his young Hornets career in Cleveland, putting up 25 points on 9-13 shooting in 27 minutes played.

The Hornets’ hot start got real when they traveled to Brooklyn for an early-season showdown with the NBA Finals favorite Nets and subsequently handled them for an entire 48 minutes. The Hornets weren’t blowing out the Nets at any point, but Charlotte’s frenetic defense and adaptable man-to-man/zone schemes held Brooklyn to 25.7 percent shooting from long-range and forced 17 turnovers. Cody Martin hit a step-back three on Kevin Durant to help seal the game in the fourth quarter and Ish Smith had 15 points and four assists. 

The game against Boston was perhaps the most competitive of the week, with the Hornets stretching their lead near double-digits and the Celtics returning the favor as the game went on. Jayson Tatum scored 41 points and Jaylen Brown had 30– it’s hard to beat the Celtics when their two All-Stars play that well, even when Ball and Bridges drop 25 points themselves.

What’s ahead for the Hornets

Charlotte will face Orlando at 7:00 p.m. EST on Wednesday before traveling to Miami for a matchup with the Heat on Friday at 7:30 p.m. EST on ESPN, the first of four currently scheduled national TV games this season. The week will cap off with a home game against Portland on Halloween night, also at 7:00 p.m. EST.

The Magic will at least be missing Markelle Fultz, Jonathan Isaac and Michael Carter-Williams with Gary Harris, E’Twuan Moore and Chuma Okeke all missing Monday’s game against the Heat. The Magic are the third-youngest team in the league with an average age of 24.7 years, so rookies Jalen Suggs and Franz Wagner have played heavy minutes so far. 

Games against the Heat have been exciting in recent years, and the first meeting between the new-look squads should be no different. Tyler Herro has been playing well to start the season and he’s handled playmaking duties well as Kyle Lowry nurses a sore ankle.

The Trail Blazers will arrive in Charlotte for the front end of a three-game East Coast swing. CJ McCollum has scored the ball with ease to begin the year, and long-time Hornets big Cody Zeller will make his first trip to the Spectrum Center as a member of an opposing team. After breaking his nose in the preseason, Zeller has gotten back to his old screen-setting self. The plastic face mask is a nice touch for “The Big Handsome.”

What to watch for this week

Miles Bridges hasn’t missed a beat after taking a huge leap towards the end of last season, and he’s looked perfectly capable of shouldering the Hornets’ offense for extended periods of time. His shooting efficiency has yet to suffer with increased volume– the key to Bridges maintaining this level of performance is continuing to knock down the easy looks he gets more so than the tougher off-balanced shots he’s become increasingly better at making.

The second unit has been a massive factor in Charlotte’s success. Ish Smith plays fast and is geared towards playmaking in ways similar to Ball, Martin’s shotmaking has been impressive so far, and Oubre Jr. has provided the energy and defensive intensity that was expected when he signed. If all of that continues, head coach James Borrego won’t need to worry about finding minutes for rookies James Bouknight and Kai Jones until they’re fully ready.

Check out the full 2021-22 schedule for the Charlotte Hornets.

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