After a rough West Coast swing, Hornets prepare for Kemba Walker and Steph Curry this week

By Chase Whitney

November 11, 2021

Photo: Brandon Dill / AP

Remember when the Hornets started off the season undefeated? It seems like ages ago, which goes to show how quickly things can change in the NBA. Charlotte was riding high heading into a five-game road trip, but the California portion of the schedule wasn’t kind as they dropped all four games, extending their losing streak to five games and setting them at 5-7 before heading into Memphis.

A week in review

In San Francisco and against the Warriors, Miles Bridges posted his fourth 30-point output of the season and Gordon Hayward put up an efficient 23 points and 11 rebounds, but the Hornets’ offense was continuously stifled by Golden State’s league-best defense in the loss. Charlotte’s bench managed just 11 points, and to top it off PJ Washington hyperextended his elbow in the second half, further depleting the second unit. The Hornets didn’t score more than 26 points in a quarter and were held to 15 in the decisive third quarter leading to a 114-92 loss. 

It was even worse in Sacramento. The Hornets gave up 41 points in the opening quarter with three Kings scoring 20-plus points in the game shooting 50 percent from deep burying 22 3-pointers. It doesn’t matter how good your team is offensively– if you turn in that kind of defensive performance, you’ll lose every time. On the bright side, Hayward had 25 on 10-17 shooting and LaMelo Ball added 24 points and 13 assists.

The 120-106 final score against the Clippers is a bit misleading, as this game was pretty much a nail-biter up until the last four minutes. The 39-point first quarter was a welcomed change from the slow starts typical of the Hornets this season, but the veteran-laden Clippers executed at a higher level down the stretch. Charlotte went on a 15-4 run to open the fourth, but the Clippers held them scoreless for a seven-minute stretch and ended up allowing only 19 points in the quarter. Nic Batum and Terance Mann carried LA defensively with Paul George leading the way with 20 points, nine rebounds and eight assists.

Against the Lakers, Anthony Davis tallied 32 points, 12 rebounds and five blocks fighting a stomach ache as Westbrook notched a 17-point, 12-rebound, 14-assist triple-double although he added seven turnovers. Ball recorded a triple-double of his own (25 points, 11 rebounds, and 11 assist) as Bridges, Hayward and Rozier all played well, which typically results in a win for the Hornets, but the second unit provided little offensively. Former Hornets guard Malik Monk added 10 points in 17 minutes, including a crucial half-court heave to beat the third-quarter buzzer.

There’s only one name that comes to mind when discussing the Memphis Grizzlies: Ja Morant. He currently ranks fifth in the NBA with 26.5 points per game and he’s eighth in assists with 7.3 per game. An elite rim finisher for his size, Morant’s scoring ability was on full display as he dropped 19 points in the opening quarter. Second-year wing Desmond Bane has been great for Memphis this season but went 1-10 from the field on Wednesday, and the Grizzlies offense didn’t get much outside of Morant, Dillon Brooks and Jaren Jackson Jr. while Kelly Oubre Jr. came off the bench and exploded for 37 points on 13-17 shooting (7-9 from 3-point range).

What’s ahead for the Hornets?

The Hornets rounded out their first long road trip of the season against Memphis on Wednesday, and will now be home for a four-game homestand. The Knicks and Warriors will visit The Hive before the Hornets finally get back-to-back days off early next week. A long road trip combined with very few days of rest may have contributed to a lackluster showing this past week.

Charlotte legend Kemba Walker returns to the city for the first time as a member of his hometown New York Knicks on Friday night. Walker is averaging 11.3 points in 25.7 minutes per game under Tom Thibodeau and shooting 42.9 percent on 5.7 3-point attempts per game giving the Knicks’ offense a much-needed boost this season. All-NBA forward Julius Randle has led the team to a 7-3 start with 21.9 points, 10.5 rebounds and 5.2 assists per game. 

On Sunday night, the Hornets will finish off the season series with the Warriors in Charlotte. Steph Curry makes his annual appearance in his hometown, and hopefully the Hornets offense will have some answers for Steve Kerr’s defense after seeing it just over a week prior.

What to watch for this week

Defense. Just defense. The Hornets held their own on that end to begin the year, but they’ve since plummeted to bottom of the defensive rankings in the NBA. On top of that, they’re 26th in defensive rebounding percentage. They’ve got to do a better job limiting extra possessions; rebounding well is a more attainable goal for this team right now than protecting the rim and locking down the 3-point line for 48 minutes. 

Those who question PJ Washington’s value to this team are getting their answer. Small-ball is Charlotte’s only chance of putting a solid offensive and defensive lineup together at the same time right now, and until Washington’s hyperextended elbow is healed (he’s going to see a specialist for it soon), the interior defensive responsibilities will have to be filled by committee.

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

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