That was a lot better! One night after the Charlotte Hornets played a lackluster game in a loss against the New York Knicks, resulting from a stagnant, disjointed offense, they bounced back with a hard-fought victory over the Brooklyn Nets, winning 116-111.
The team as a whole looked much better (although there was a lot to be desired on the defensive end), especially offensively, as the ball movement was much better, the system looked much more free-flowing, and they made quite a few more shots. I imagine that last part and that first part are connected. The Hornets shot .440 from three, .488 from the floor, and scored 42 points in the paint. Seven of the nine Hornets who saw the floor tonight finished in double figures (Cody Zeller had zero, and Jeremy Lamb scored six points on 2-7 shooting), including Nicolas Batum, whose 24 points was the team-high mark.
Batum, and Kemba Walker, both played particularly well. In addition to leading the team on the scoreboard, Batum took charge defensively, making a lot of important rotations and putting his hand into big plays. Walker led the offense for most of the night, especially during the first three quarters when Jeremy Lin struggled, and had perhaps his best all-around game so far this year, dropping 18 on 5-9 floor shooting (and 5-for-10 from the line), seven rebounds, and seven assists.
Meanwhile, those three guards all played in the same backcourt down the stretch, taking over the final six minutes of the game and putting their mark on the scoreboard. The play of the Kemba-Lin-Batum lineup has to be one of the most optimistic parts of tonight's win, as it looks like it could continue to be very successful down the road.
The frontcourt looked a little...different, we'll say for now. It's becoming clearer and clearer that this team no longer needs to be centered around Al Jefferson offensively, which would put Jefferson in a supplemental role for the first time since he became a starter in the NBA. That's, of course, a good thing, as it means the offense is now more versatile than the past two seasons. Jefferson obviously still has value to add to the team, but the Hornets will no longer live or die based on his performance alone.
Cody Zeller, though, seemed to struggle a bit tonight. I'll give him a little bit of slack, since Thaddeus Young is a nightmare matchup for him (one of very few NBA big men for whom I think that's true), but he seemed very hesitant on offense for the first time in a while. He got into foul trouble early in the first quarter and only played eight minutes in the second half, so it's possible he never got the opportunity to find his rhythm, but he didn't contribute much on the offense end tonight.
And then there's Frank Kaminsky and Spencer Hawes. I'm still not sure whether they're too similar or the perfect complements. At this stage in their careers, Kaminsky probably plays slightly better defense, Hawes tries to force things more than Kaminsky, but Kaminsky makes more rookie mistakes. They both seem to come and go, but both brought their A-game tonight, and they both had huge impacts on the Hornets' bench unit, which was crucial to the victory tonight. Hawes led the team in plus/minus, while Kaminsky scored double-digits for the first time in his NBA career, and led the Hornets in first-half minutes. Both, though, seemed to struggle both as rim protectors and in man assignments tonight, Hawes especially, as he matadored Brook Lopez on one particular possession, allowing Lopez to score an unimpeded layup.
The biggest issue with the Hornets looking forward is how they're going to get internal defense with the current frontcourt rotation. Jefferson and Hawes are not good defensive players, Kaminsky certainly isn't yet, and Zeller, while one of the league's most versatile interior defenders, can't cover that much ground by himself, especially if he's being isolated on a player that provides matchup issues for him. Injury recovery from P.J. Hairston will move Marvin Williams into a better defensive role for him, which will help the team as a whole, but in the meantime, it might be time to consider giving Tyler Hansbrough some minutes from Hawes' or Kaminsky's totals.
All in all, though, there was a lot to be optimistic about tonight, and with a very favorable stretch of schedule ahead of the Hornets, it looks like they'll be able to make up a lot of ground in the Eastern Conference standings over the next two weeks. I'm hoping Kemba continues his stretch of very solid play, Batum impacts both ends of the floor like he has over the last few games, and that at least two bench players keep causing major issues for opposing teams. I'm not going to overreact to reaching .500, but it looks like it could be a fun time to be a Hornets fan right now.