When: November 3, 7 p.m.
Where: Time Warner Cable Arena (Charlotte)
TV: Fox Sports Southeast
Radio: WFNZ 610 AM
Well, 0-3 isn't how anyone really wanted to start the season, but that's where the Hornets find themselves after their first three games of the season. Tonight, they'll get a chance to stop the losing streak against their first non-division opponent, the Chicago Bulls.
There are still plenty of reasons to be optimistic. All three losses have been close and against good teams (both the Miami Heat and Atlanta Hawks are likely to make the playoffs), and two of those losses came on the road. Optimism alone, of course, won't be enough to beat the Chicago Bulls, they of the stingy defense and seven straight playoff berths. The Bulls sit at 3-1, including wins over the Orlando Magic and the reigning Eastern Conference champions, the Cleveland Cavaliers. Moreover, their defense ranks fifth in the NBA in efficiency, and the team as a whole is only getting better.
Despite being known better as a defensive-first team, the Bulls have really improved their shooting this year, and they currently rank sixth in the league in three-point percentage. Stars such as Derrick Rose, Pau Gasol, and Joakim Noah might get most of the headlines, but Jimmy Butler leads a core of young players who can all shoot the ball well, including the second-year standout Nikola Mirotic, the resurgent Doug McDermott, and newly-improved stretch four Tony Snell. (All this is being done with Mike Dunleavy out while he recovers from back surgery, for what that's worth).
So not only is the Hornets perimeter defense going to be key in the upcoming game, they'll also have to find different ways to score against a very well-rounded defense. The Bulls pose a tough matchup both on the inside and around the arc, and they rarely allow free throws. The only discernible weaknesses on the Chicago squad are their poor turnover marks (they often lose the turnover battle), and their surprising lack of rebounding so far this year. The Hornets probably won't challenge them on the offensive glass, but Charlotte is one of the best in the league at protecting the ball, and they'll probably have to run the offense through Kemba Walker and Al Jefferson in order to fully expose that advantage.
I'm less worried about defensive assignments in this game than others, because I think this is a decent match for the Hornets. Walker has shut down Rose before, Nicolas Batum can stop Butler's offensive progress, Gasol won't roam too much for Jefferson, and Cody Zeller can do a good job on Chicago's stretch fours. That leaves P.J. Hairston as kind of an odd-man out in these situations, as his defensive skill hasn't really paid off toward on-court production just yet, so he'll have to make a difference on one end of the court or another, or he'll probably be replaced pretty quickly. Jeremys Lin and Lamb have played better than Hairston so far, and if his shot isn't falling, they won't mind taking the defensive hit to insert another player whose shots will actually count on the scoreboard.
Pay attention to Frank Kaminsky and Spencer Hawes in this game, too. Kaminsky, despite limited playing time so far, has almost unquestionably played better than Hawes so far, and it's only a matter of time before the rookie overtakes the veteran in minutes. There might not be a better time to illustrate the difference between the player's abilities early in the season than this game, where athletic big men will have to play a large role no matter what.
The Hornets have played well so far, but not well enough to earn a win just yet. Despite playing against perhaps the biggest challenger for the Eastern Conference title, the Hornets will have a pretty good shot to get their first win of the season on their home court.