It's rare to have consecutive days off during the NBA's regular season, but that is exactly what the Charlotte Hornets were handed after Saturday's loss to the Boston Celtics. After three days of rest, the Hornets responded in disappointing fashion, dropping Wednesday's road contest to the Orlando Magic, 113-98.
Charlotte began the game with this season's striking upgrades - ball movement and outside shooting. Side-to-side flings led to three-point baskets from P.J. Hairston and Nicolas Batum to begin the game. Crisp swings also found Kemba Walker open in the corner for a deep make and Charlotte took an early lead.
While ball movement produced the early points, turnovers began to rear their ugly head. Four early turnovers lead to an 8-0 Magic run that forced a Steve Clifford timeout. Out of the break, Charlotte committed a turnover, leading to an Orlando dunk and just like that, the Magic's lead was nine.
Charlotte had six turnovers in the first six minutes of the game, leading to a 16-3 Orlando run that involved the Magic connecting on four of their five three-point attempts during the stretch. The Hornets finished the quarter with seven turnovers and a seven-point deficit.
The turnover trend continued as rookie Frank Kaminsky turned the ball over twice in the first few minutes of the second quarter. Orlando grew their lead to 11 but the Hornets would make their first attempt at a comeback soon after. Kaminsky knocked down a three-pointer then the Hornets forced a turnover that turned into a trey from Batum.
The Hornets would conjure up several mini-runs during the second quarter, each putting Charlotte just 5-6 points down to the Magic. Making it a one possession game, or tying it up, was something they seemed unable to do. Anytime the Hornets made it interesting, Orlando would respond with a bucket, often a three-pointer. The Magic made nine three-pointers in the first half after coming into the game averaging eight treys per contest.
Charlotte found themselves down by 13, the largest lead of the game, when they entered the locker room for halftime. While things they couldn't control hurt them in the first half, frustrating, inconvenient happenings occurred to begin the third quarter. Batum picked up his fourth foul early on, quickly sending him to the bench. While on the pine, Batum had to head back to the locker room after becoming ill and would not return.
Facing an already steep double-digit deficit, the Hornets were quickly forced to face it without their most dynamic player. While Batum had not had a spectacular performance during his time on the floor Wednesday night, he was still holding the Orlando defense accountable. His playmaking ability on both ends of the floor was sorely missed and the Magic only increased their lead in his absence.
Orlando took a 16-point lead into the fourth quarter and even extended it to 20 during the period while Clifford sat his starters, save Hairston.
Charlotte lacked in several areas tonight but the loss can also be attributed to an outstanding night by the Magic. Orlando eclipsed their season-high field goal percentage, shooting 55.8 percent from the floor. They were also able to knock down 14-of-24 three point attempts, far above average for this Orlando team.
Charlotte didn't find itself a new season high for turnovers (20) but did commit 16 mistakes on the night. As frustrating as that was on the offensive end, the defense was vastly more troubling. Elfrid Payton was turning the corner hard on pick-and-rolls, getting penetration and finding open shooters. Dribble penetration shredded the Hornets' defense on Wednesday night. The draw-and-kick game was in full force but it didn't stop there. Once the pass was made, Charlotte was unwilling to contest, especially when the bigs of Orlando were throwing it up.
Jeremy Lamb led the team with 16 points while Hairston contributed a season-high 14. Walker contributed 12 points and nine assists but finished 4-of-12 from the field.
After three days of rest, Charlotte possibly distributed their worst defensive effort of the season thanks to horrendous pick-and-roll coverage. Wednesday night's game marks the first contest of a back-to-back. The Hornets will tussle with the Toronto Raptors on Thursday night in Time Warner Cable Arena.