Things are really starting to come together for the Charlotte Hornets. Make no mistake, the Minnesota Timberolves are one of the bottom tier teams in the NBA. Ever since the injury to Ricky Rubio, Minnesota has struggled on defense, and their spacing issues have been put under a magnifying glass. Today, the Hornets exposed all of the Wolves flaws on the way to a 105-88 MLK Day rout.
The key to Charlotte's dominating victory was their smothering defense. From start to finish, the Wolves were constantly under attack from Charlotte's defense and rarely did they find an open shot. When they did it was usually a low percentage look, which further proves how much better Charlotte has been on that side of the ball since the season began. A huge early season problem for Charlotte was their defense not playing up to expectations. Falling all the way from sixth in the NBA to the 20's was a huge blow, but as the season has gone on they've steadily moved up the rankings. It's no coincidence the Hornets are playing their best basketball of the season at the same time their defense is coming together.
Not only was the defense playing well, but the offense didn't look too shabby either. Maybe it was an effect of the defense, but the Hornets found good looks and made their shots. They went 12-for-22 from 3-point range and used that spacing to get players like Bismack Biyombo and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist good looks close to the basket. The Hornets have fallen a little too in love with the mid range jump shot this season, and while they were hitting them today, it was good to see them consistently look for shots from deep.
One player that thrived from the deep ball was Gerald Henderson. While he's not usually known for bombing it from deep, Hendo finished the game three triples and 17 points. It's always nice to get that extra spacing boost from an unexpected player, because it really opens up the offense for the team overall.
The offense opened up to the point that Michael Kidd-Gilchrist got to play as aggressively as he wanted. While he only finished with 10 points, MKG looked really comfortable attacking the basket and pulling up for jump shots. His offense still needs fine tuning, but he's still playing aggressive in January and that's great for the Hornets.
Another player that is really stepping up as of late is Bismack Biyombo. While Biyombo has always made subtle improvements throughout his career, it was today that he really showed how much he's improved. His offense is still a mess, but he grabs rebounds with force, and is a terror in the lanes with his shot blocking ability. Teams are beginning to respect Biyombo's defense, and he's backing up that respect.
It's a good thing Biyombo is playing as well as he is, because it looks like Al Jefferson still needs a little more time to get back into the swing of things. It's been 10 games since we lost saw Big Al, and he's a little rusty due to all the time he missed. A few shots that are usually automatic didn't go for the big man, and that's probably why he came off the bench in limited minutes. Jefferson will eventually be back to full strength, but he can take his time knowing the team is playing well while he gets back to 100 percent.
It was really just a perfect game for Charlotte. It helped they were up against a bad defense, and struggling offense but the Hornets deserve credit for what they did. Minnesota never had a chance to get comfortable and were forced into a lot of bad situations. These bad situations forced them to shoot 36% from the field and turn the ball over 16 times. That's some fantastic defense from a team that's starting to get things to click.
With how many times the Hornets have rose from the ashes this season it's fair to be skeptical, but this time it might be for real. Charlotte really looks like things are starting to get better and the biggest factor in that is their defense. If they can keep playing at this level, then a playoff spot at the end of the year wouldn't be too crazy considering how bleh the eastern conference is. Still, Charlotte's tricked everybody in the past and this time they're gonna have to prove they can keep it up.