The Hornets win back-to-back games against the defending champion Bucks with improved defense

By Chase Whitney

January 11, 2022

Photo: Jacob Kupferman / AP

Basketball fans are riding high in Charlotte right now. After blowing out the Detroit Pistons to snap a two-game losing streak, the Hornets kept rolling and knocked off the Milwaukee Bucks in back-to-back games at The Hive, outplaying the defending champs down the stretch. 

Hornets beat the defending champs in back-to-back games

The first matchup with Milwaukee was on January 8, and despite 43 points (18-20 FT) and 12 rebounds from Giannis Antetokounmpo and 27 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists from Khris Middleton, the Hornets took the win, 114-106. Charlotte held the Bucks to 12 points in the second quarter and then scored 42 points of their own in the third. Terry Rozier led the Hornets with 28 points (11-19 FG, 6-10 3-PT), four boards and four assists, including a clutch three-pointer to put the Hornets up seven with 34.7 seconds left. Miles Bridges added 21 points and eight rebounds while LaMelo Ball posted 19 points, nine rebounds and eight assists. 

Two days later, the Hornets beat the Bucks again, this time with a final score of 103-99. Antetokounmpo was limited to eight free-throw attempts opposed to 20 in the previous game, and he finished with 26 points, 13 rebounds and eight assists while Middleton put up 27 points, seven boards and 11 dimes, but the two veterans combined for 13 turnovers. Rozier followed up with 27 points this time out, adding seven rebounds and four assists. Bridges put up a double-double with 17 points and 11 rebounds while Ball finished with 23 points (16 in the 3rd quarter), five rebounds, three assists, and a crunch-time floater that gave Charlotte a two-point lead with 15.4 seconds to go. 

What’s ahead for the Hornets?

Joel Embiid and the Philadelphia 76ers await the Hornets on January 12, with a home game against the Orlando Magic coming on January 14.

The Sixers are on fire right now, winning seven-straight games and eight of the last nine. Philadelphia beat the Hornets twice already this season and have won the last 16 games in the series, with Charlotte’s last victory coming on November 2, 2016. The Sixers have the second-best offense and fourth-best defense during their win-streak and Embiid has scored 30-plus points in every game.

On the flip side, the Magic couldn’t be colder; they’ve lost nine in a row at the time of publication and will play Washington before heading to Charlotte. Orlando is the worst team in the NBA with a current record of 7-34, though they played the Hornets competitively in the first two matchups of the season. Cole Anthony is averaging 19.9 points, 6.1 rebounds and 5.7 assists per game while Franz Wagner is a bona fide Rookie of the Year candidate halfway through the season.

What to watch for 

Charlotte’s defense has improved significantly as the team returns to (almost) full health. During the three-game stretch, the Hornets rank seventh in defensive rating, and PJ Washington has been a huge part of that. He’s recorded seven or more rebounds in each game with seven combined steals and blocks, providing reliable, tough defense on the interior since his return. Holding Milwaukee under 100, even without Jrue Holiday, is a sign of improvement. The Hornets don’t have to maintain a top-seven defense, but let’s see if they can pull themselves out of the depths. 

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), or the NBA app. The first fan voting update was given on January 6., and Ball is fifth among East guards while Bridges is eighth among East frontcourt players. Voting closes at midnight on January 22, so get those ballots in while you can.

Check out the remaining 2021-22 Charlotte Hornets schedule.

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