Hornets will need their best from LaMelo and Miles for their first West Coast road trip

By Chase Whitney

November 2, 2021

Photo: Marty Jean-Louis / Sipa USA via AP

The Charlotte Hornets have cooled off a bit since a hot start, but after eight games they sit at 5-3 and boast the NBA’s best 3-point percentage (41.1 percent) and second-best offensive rating (114.1). They’ve alternated wins and losses since opening the year 3-0, falling to Miami and Cleveland this week.

A week in review

Things were a bit too close for comfort against the Magic but the Hornets took care of business, outscoring Orlando 29-18 in the fourth quarter to come away with a win on the road. Miles Bridges recorded another 30-point game with 31 points and six rebounds, while Hayward paced the team with 24 points, five boards, five assists and two steals on 9-of-13 shooting. Jalen McDaniels was also a scorching 4-of-5 from long range in 22 minutes; he is currently fifth in the league in 3-point percentage among players with more than two attempts per game at 58.3 percent.

Against the Heat, Hayward’s 23 points, six rebounds and four assists and Mile Bridges’ 23 points and eight rebounds couldn’t overcome the physical advantage Miami had against the Hornets. At one point, the Heat’s offensive rebound total matched Charlotte’s total number of rebounds. Miami finished with a 60-37 advantage on the glass in a surprisingly winnable game for the Hornets, who trailed by eight with five minutes remaining. Jimmy Butler put up 32 points and 10 rebounds while Bam Adebayo had 26 points and hauled in an impressive 19 rebounds.

Charlotte got back on track with a win over the Trail Blazers at The Hive and so did LaMelo, posting 27 points, nine rebounds and seven assists shooting 10-for-20 from the field, including 4-of-9 from deep. Kelly Oubre Jr. had 13 points in the fourth quarter, finishing with 26 points, seven rebounds, and five assists on six made 3-pointers as the Hornets buried 20 threes as a team. Damian Lillard’s slow start continued in a 5-of-20 shooting performance (2-14 from 3-point range), though he dished out 12 assists. Cody Zeller had six points, six rebounds and two assists in 18 minutes in his first game back in Charlotte as an opposing player. 

Cleveland’s tall-ball lineup gave the Hornets trouble. Jarrett Allen dominated the interior with five dunks in the first quarter alone, and he had 24 points, 16 rebounds (six offensive) and three blocks by the night’s end. Rookie Evan Mobley was impressive, tallying 10 rebounds, three assists, two steals and a block in a game-high 40 minutes played. LaMelo Ball’s 30 points, seven boards, six assists, two steals and two blocks helped the Hornets keep it interesting throughout, but he and Terry Rozier’s 3-point barrage in crunch time wasn’t enough to beat the Cavs. 

What’s ahead for the Hornets?

The Hornets take off for their first West Coast road trip of the season, beginning with a 10 p.m. EST Wednesday night showdown against the Warriors on ESPN. Charlotte will visit Sacramento on Friday before a Sunday-Monday back-to-back in Los Angeles versus the Clippers and Lakers.

Not only will this be the team’s first long distance, multi-game road trip of the season, but some formidable opponents will await their arrival. Golden State’s third-ranked defense (98.7 defensive rating) collides with Charlotte’s no. 2 offense, and it’s always fun when Dell Curry calls a game with one of his sons playing. Harrison Barnes has played really well for the Kings so far; 23.3 points and 10.3 rebounds are both career-best averages, and he’s hit a blistering 45.5 percent of his 7.3 3-point attempts per game.

The back-to-back in Staples Center against both of the LA teams will be a tall task. The Clippers are the NBA’s fifth-best defense (101.0 defensive rating) and though the Lakers have started slow, they still have Anthony Davis, LeBron James and Russell Westbrook.

What to watch for this week

To put it in simple terms: Miles Bridges. He’s still putting up numbers, averaging career-highs across the board with 23.1 points, 7.9 rebounds, 3.4 assists and 1.8 steals per game, with his nightly scoring average ranking 20th league-wide. It’s no longer a question whether Bridges’ growth as a scorer and playmaker is real. His 23.1 points, 7.9 rebounds and 3.4 assists on solid efficiency make him a potential All-Star if he can keep with this pace. 

The Hornets are quickly emerging as the worst rim-protecting defense in the NBA. They allow opponents to shoot 72.5 percent in the restricted area, while no other defense in the league allows more than 70 percent. Charlotte’s 48.5 opponent points in the paint ranks 23rd in the NBA, which can be attributed in part to the team’s level of effort and the schemes employed by head coach James Borrego to help limit opponent field goal attempts at the rim. There’s not a sure-fire way to fix this issue immediately, but it’ll surely be something to monitor as the season wears on.

Check out the remaining 2021-22 Charlotte Hornets schedule.

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