The Hornets played in a close game for most of last night's contest against the Chicago Bulls, but finished with a disappointing fourth quarter to lose 102-95. As I'm sure I don't need to remind anyone, this is the tenth straight loss for the team. That's bad. But they've looked as good as they have in a long time, against one of the very best teams in the Eastern Conference. That's good! So, did anything actually improve over that long break? Let's take a look at some things I think got better, and some things that still need to be worked on.
- Shot selection: They took better shots last night! A lot fewer long twos, more shots from the paint, and (with one exception, but we'll get to that later), a fairly nice-looking team shot chart. One of the worst offenders of the team-wide shot selection turdfest we've had to witness recently has been Lance Stephenson, and I also think he did a better job last night. Getting to the rim was a huge part of his game when he was successful in Indiana, and he hasn't been doing that nearly as often this year. He took 12 of his 18 shots in the paint, which probably was one of the factors that led to his 9-18 shooting line. Good job, Lance!
- Cody Zeller: He's had a very good, surprising season, but he did struggle in the last few games. That changed in the game against Chicago. Despite getting the start, he did play fewer minutes than Marvin WIlliams, who came off the bench. Zeller's presence was felt in every area, though; in his 23 minutes, he shot 5-9 for 12 points and grabbed eight rebounds. Plus, we got to see vintage #DiabloCody on this dunk that was both over and through Pau Gasol.
- Takeaways: The Hornets aren't a team that create a lot of turnovers on defense, so it's nice to see them take the ball away from the Bulls thirteen times, scoring twelve points off those possessions. This was a faster-paced game than the Hornets are used to playing, so I can't criticize the defense too much for giving up triple digits yet again, especially because they used that defense to create points on the other end.
Of course, they still lost, so there's a lot of things that still were lackluster.
Stuff That Didn't Improve:
- Three-pointers: I have to get this one out of the way early. We all know it's an issue. 2-15 is terrible, even without Gary Neal, and the bench cannot go 1-9 from three and expect to have a productive offensive output. If you look at that shot chart I linked earlier, you'll notice that they went 1-1 on threes from the corner, and 1-14 on threes from anywhere else. Seems like there's a pattern there.
- Kemba Walker: I mean, this is absolutely filthy, and reminds me of Pittsburgh's Gary McGhee getting both his ankles and knees broken by Kemba at the Big East Tournament, but if you want to talk about someone who hasn't played well recently, you almost have to start with Kemba Walker. Tonight was a bit better, as he was attacking the basket, but wasn't facilitating the offense, and still shot a pretty unimpressive 7-18. It's been a rough season for Walker, but he needs to get something going if this team is going to turn around.
- The bench, as a whole: I'm tempted to shrug a bit, shake my head incredulously, and say "get it together!" but that doesn't seem like a particularly useful bit of commentary. Though regression was to be expected, Brian Roberts' hot streak ended pretty spectacularly with a 1-8 game, Bismack Biyombo disappointed at least me by not contributing a ton on defense, and PJ Hairston didn't hit his shots. This will all look a lot better once Neal and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist are healthy, obviously, but the personnel itself might deserve a little more criticism than throwing up our hands and rhetorically asking "Well, what can we do?" I'll wait on that, though, because this team has