Following a blown lead that led to a disappointing loss to the Indiana Pacers, fellow At The Hive writer Frank Berndt unveiled the Hornets Panic Level Meter. That might say all you need to know about how this season is going so far. Thankfully, the Hornets have one of their easier tests of the year tonight, a home contest against the Orlando Magic, one of the weaker teams in an already-weak Eastern Conference. Of course, that also means that this Panic Level Meter is going to skyrocket if the Hornets can't get a much-needed win. Gulp.
The Hornets defense hadn't really struggled to start this season, but nobody felt it was as strong as the previous campaign's. Since the first week and a half, that defensive effectiveness has come down quite a bit, allowing 100 points in four of the last six games. Unsurprisingly, every game was a loss. Meanwhile, the team has continued to struggle offensively, still ranking 28th in the league in Offensive Rating, scoring only 100.3 points per 100 possessions. While some of this may be attributed to the fact that this stretch, which included five road games, was one of the most difficult the Hornets will see all year, it's still hard to ignore their very ineffective play.
Meanwhile, the Magic aren't all that dissimilar from the Hornets. Both have relied on their defense to create what wins they're getting, are a young team with a few high draft picks that aren't quite ready to be stars yet, and are led by a star center. Nikola Vucevic, in my mind, might be the most underrated player in the NBA, and he's capable of having a big impact both on the scoreboard and in cleaning off the defensive glass. Other key contributors include Tobias Harris, averaging just under 19 points per game, and Evan Fournier, who looks more and more like a versatile outside threat.
Both teams are among the NBA's best at grabbing defensive rebounds, and neither team sees creating takeaways as a defensive priority. Where the Magic have been struggling (besides, you know, in the standings) is creating fouls and the turnover battle. The Hornets are one of the league's best at defensive discipline, rarely sending opposing players to the line, and that will probably mean that the Magic will have to convert a high percentage of their shots in order to win. Unfortunately, that's easier done than said for Orlando, as their .408 conversion rate from three is the second-highest mark in the league. Turnovers, though, are a big issue for them, and I think it might be wise for the Hornets to be more aggressive on perimeter defense for that reason. Besides their aforementioned propensity for the longball, their primary ballhandlers rotate between sophomore Victor Oladipo (who is not a particularly good ball protector), rookie Elfrid Payton (who is even worse), and Bobcats Legend Luke Ridnour (who you might remember from last year, with an added year onto his age curve).
Despite the Hornets' injuries to just about any wing whose last name doesn't end in "son," the Magic aren't having great luck with health at the moment either, though the Hornets probably have the less-desirable issues. Orlando will be without the services of Aaron Gordon, who is already playing well as a young rookie, and versatile bench forward Kyle O'Quinn. Fournier, too, may also miss tonight's contest, as he was forced to sit out Wednesday's game against the Los Angeles Clippers with a bruised heel, but his official status has not yet been announced.
While this shouldn't be that big of a game for the Hornets, their substandard play so far has made this into an important inter-division match. They'll need to get a home win against a struggling young team in order to get their first win in a week.