Despite three-straight losses, LaMelo Ball is playing at an All-Star level

By Chase Whitney

December 2, 2021

Photo: Eric Christian Smith / AP

If it feels repetitive, that’s because it is– the Charlotte Hornets are yet again in the midst of an up-and-down stretch. The Hornets began the season 5-2, then dropped five-straight, won eight out of nine, and have now fallen in each of the last three games. Here’s how things went down in the last week and what’s up ahead.

A week in review

Charlotte’s most recent win came against Minnesota at home. A closely-fought game in the first quarter turned into a relatively comfortable win for the Hornets, leading by double-digits for a sizable portion of the game. Kelly Oubre Jr. put up 27 points (7-13 from 3-point range) in 27 minutes with six other Hornets scoring in double figures and LaMelo Ball posting 10 points and 13 assists for a double-double.

When the Hornets hit their latest road swing, the struggles began. Heading into the game against the Rockets, Houston was 2-16 and had struggled offensively all season– they ended up scoring 43 points in the first quarter, knocking down 23 three-pointers and shooting 53.7 percent from the field as they staved off a comeback attempt from the Hornets late in the fourth and into overtime. On the bright side, Ball recorded a triple-double with 19 points, 11 rebounds and 13 assists.

In the first Ball Brothers showdown of the 2021-22 season, Lonzo Ball bested his younger sibling as the Bulls easily handled the Hornets in Chicago. The theme of the first two games on the road was poor defense; the offense was fine throughout, but it’s difficult to win giving up 146 and 133 points in back-to-back games. Ball did tally another 13-assist game and Rozier had 31 points on 6-7 shooting from downtown, however.

Against the defending-champion Bucks, Charlotte came out of the gates with an NBA season-high-tying 10 made threes in the first quarter as Giannis Antetokounmpo and Ball went back-and-forth down the stretch. The two-time MVP claimed victory, but the stars would swap jerseys afterwards. Despite the loss, Ball earned himself some stripes with the performance against the mighty Bucks on the road.

What’s ahead for the Hornets?

Rest! That’s what’s immediately ahead for the Hornets, and boy do they need it. The Hornets, Pacers and Pelicans are the only teams in the NBA that have played 24 games thus far, and this marks the first three-day stretch without a game since Charlotte’s season began. The grind of an NBA season really takes its toll on a player’s body, and it’s important for the Hornets to get rest while they can. They’ll actually get to head home after the Milwaukee game before a short road trip to Atlanta on Sunday, and then Philadelphia comes to town for a two-game set next week.

Expectations were high for the Hawks after a surprise Eastern Conference Finals run last season and they couldn’t have come out flatter to start this year, but they’ve turned it around quickly with eight wins in the last nine games. Trae Young has been great, shooting a career-high 38.8 percent from deep on 6.9 3-point attempts per game, but some key role players from the playoff run have underperformed so far and, small forward DeAndre Hunter has been sidelined with another injury (wrist).

The two-game series against the 76ers on Monday and Wednesday could tell us a lot about the Hornets; not necessarily on-court, but the philosophy and mindset of the front office. If the Hornets are able to compete with Joel Embiid and the Sixers without a starting-quality center, Mitch Kupchak and his staff may be pushed further towards a trade that improves the roster for the stretch run. If not, it could influence the team to stand pat and roll with what they’ve got as it’s worked well enough so far. Beyond Embiid, Tyrese Maxey’s athleticism at the lead guard spot could cause trouble for Charlotte’s defense– he’s averaging 17.5 points, 3.9 rebounds and 4.9 assists on 56.1 percent true shooting in his sophomore season.

What to watch for 

Over the last three games, Gordon Hayward is scoring 20.3 points per contest on 45.5 percent (3.7 3-point attempts) from three-point land. Hayward has been good this season, but he seems to be settling back in as the team’s go-to option late in the shot clock and to close out games. He buried some timely jumpers against Milwaukee, and he posted back-to-back 20-point games against Houston and Chicago.

Also, keep an eye on the Eastern Conference standings as the Hornets take three days off. It’s too early to be watching for playoff-seeding purposes, but the NBA as a whole is incredibly competitive this season and the Hornets may move up or down the standings in a short period of time. 

Check out the remaining 2021-22 Charlotte Hornets schedule.

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