The first aggressive double-team the Dallas Mavericks put on Al Jefferson came with about four and a half minutes remaining in the fourth quarter. Given Jefferson's stat line (31 points on 15-of-18 shooting) it probably should have come sooner.
Jefferson had arguably his best game since the 2013-14 season, and it came against a team that he only scored 14 points against in two games last season. It helps when Zaza Pachulia defended him for most of the night, but it showed that he is still capable of putting in dominating performances, particularly against weaker post defenders. That shouldn't be surprising, but remember that Jefferson struggled to find a rhythm for almost all of last season no matter who he was playing against, to the point where many doubted whether he could ever reclaim that form from 2013-14. Thursday he showed he still has it.
Nicolas Batum didn't shoot well, going just 3-10 from the field and 0-for-5 from the 3-point line. However, his playmaking ability was in fine form. Four assists don't tell the whole story -- Batum's decisions with the ball created a lot of shot opportunities down the stretch. I won't excuse his shooting woes -- that has to improve -- but his ability to read defenders and situations was key to the Hornets offense. He's the type of player they missed last season, and even on nights when he isn't shooting well, the other strengths of his offense should still create positive things for the team.
Where Monday night's victory was thanks largely to Charlotte's ability to knock down perimeter shots, Thursday's win was thanks to the Hornets' focus on getting to the rim, especially after the 3-point shots weren't falling. Players like Marvin Williams and P.J. Hairston, known typically as catch-and-shoot players, put the ball on the floor and attacked the hoop. Others, like Cody Zeller, put themselves in the right positions to clean up missed shots or receive an open look close at the rim. It paid off, as the team shot 49.4 percent from the field, which should result in a win on most nights.
Defensively, the Hornets were very sound, forcing the Mavericks into tough shots. Their effort on that end was strong as well, which seemed to tire on Dallas as the game went on.
What I like most about Thursday's win was how Charlotte grinded with Dallas for two and a half quarters before obtaining a double-digit lead and not just holding on it, but growing on it. Heading into the fourth quarter, the Hornets seemed the likely winner, but to win by 16 (and holding a 20+ point lead for much of the fourth quarter) was urprising, but welcome.
Lastly, two other Hornets, Marvin Williams and Jeremy Lamb, need to be recognized. Williams' start to the season has surprised me more than anything. Predicting he would be averaging a near double-double, while shooting 45.8 percent from the field, and 44 percent from the 3-point line is remarkable. It's not just his shooting though, his conditioning has paid off, as he has become a force on the boards, and has improved as a defender. Assigned on Dirk Nowitzki, Williams guarded him aggressively, and Nowitzki struggled to find a rhythm.
Lamb has answered his critics since signing a 3-year extension, this time scoring 16 points on 7-11 shooting, going 2-4 from the 3-point line. I understand not wanting to mess with what's working, but if Lamb continues to play like this, at some point Steve Clifford will have to consider swapping Hairston for Lamb.