On Classic Night, the Hornets had a throwback performance and put away the Jazz 104-86 in a game that looked a lot like Friday night's victory over the 76ers. The Hornets had a big lead late, the Jazz were able to cut it down, and the Hornets, instead of panicking and letting the game slip through their fingers, responded strongly and put away Utah. Yes, it is a team they are supposed to beat. But Charlotte has played down to opponents multiple times early on, so it was nice to see them point away consecutive opponents in the fashion that they did.
The Hornets started this game on fire, like they had their previous two games. In fact, it was the third consecutive game that the team scored 30+ points in the first quarter. The difference is that in the their last two, a lot of the shots they made were long 2s and 3-pointers. Tonight, the team focused more on the inside game early. In the first quarter, Charlotte outscored Utah 16-6 in the paint.
Utah had shot 53 percent from the floor in their past two games (wins at Miami and Orlando). The Hornets held them to just 38 percent shooting. The ball movement from the team tonight was the best that I personally have seen all year. It was the first time that the Hornets resembled last year's offensive unit. Fellow At The Hive writer said the other day that no one on the floor late in a game had faith in anyone else. Tonight was the exact opposite. Everyone seemed to trust everyone else and it showed, from Al Jefferson's tenth double-double of the year (19 points, 10 rebounds) and Kemba Walker's 20 point, six assist, four steal effort to Gerald Henderson's 17 points on 8-of-12 shooting and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist's 13 point, 11 rebound double-double.
I could go on about each of those players — how Big Al seems to be finding his groove, how Kemba has been playing like the player the team expected when they signed him to his contract extension, how Gerald Henderson has taken his game to a whole new level over the past few games, how MKG looked confident on offense and absolutely shut down Gordon Hayward whenever he guarded him.
But I fear that there is a cloud building over the team, or at least among the fan base. Lance Stephenson has been out the past two games, both victories for Charlotte in which the team scored 109 and 104 points, respectively. It cannot be ignored that the team has looked better without their star offseason signee or that the ball movement has improved immensely over the past two games. But, it is still just two games, and against two of the lesser talented teams in the Association.
I do not want to see the team give up on Stephenson just yet, but games like tonight make it hard to argue for Stephenson's return.
Now that that is out of the way, we can focus on happier things again. The Hornets have won two in a row and improved to 8-19 on the year, including 6-9 at the Hive. They look like the team we all expected coming into the season. Al Jefferson left with a groin injury, but returned to the bench shortly after and could've played tonight. Good sign.
They are clicking on offense and shutting opponents down on defense. At the very worst, they will come out of this four games in five days stretch with a record of 2-2. If you told any Hornets fan going into that stretch they would go 2-2, I'm sure most would be happy to hear it.
I mean, MKG broke down someone with a dribble And 1-style, then confidently stepped up and hit a jumper. For the Charlotte Hornets right now, this gif is everything.