First, the team got a win on the road (the Hornets were 2-5 on the road this season coming into Saturday's game) against a top team in the East in the Bulls, who have been very difficult to beat at home (7-1 at home before Saturday). Second, the Hornets earned at least a tie in the season series against the Bulls with the win, as Saturday represented the third time the teams played each this season and Charlotte gone 2-1 in those games. It's never too early to think about playoffs, right? Third is this fun tidbit.
Absurd as this sounds -- it is way early -- the @hornets are 1 1/2 games out of first place in the East— Rick Bonnell (@rick_bonnell) December 6, 2015
Take that with a grain a salt though because, as Bonnell noted, it is early. And there is this.
The Hornets are also a loss better than being in the lottery.— Rick Bonnell (@rick_bonnell) December 6, 2015
The next month could be a season-changing one
Yes, it is very odd to be saying this at the beginning of December. But look at the tweets that Bonnell posted above.
Then, take a look at this.
This is the team's next 10 games. Five of the games are against teams that would be in the playoffs if it started today. Seven are against teams within a game and a half of the Hornets' current record. At the end of this stretch, the Hornets could be one of the top teams in the East record-wise. Or, they could find themselves out the outside of the playoff picture looking in, and scrambling to figure out how to get back into the top eight seeds. Oh, and keep in mind that Al Jefferson is going to miss the majority of these games.
It's kind of a big deal.
Cody Zeller and Spencer Hawes bring their A game
If Zeller and Hawes play like they did Saturday night, the loss of Big Al may not be such a big deal. Zeller, starting for Jefferson, had his best game of the season, finishing with 17 points, eight rebounds, two assists, a steal and a block against a tough and physical Chicago Bulls frontline. His energy and hustle was a great shot of adrenaline the team needed and fit in perfectly with the rest of the Hornets' starters. Not to be overlooked, Spencer Hawes had his best game as a Charlotte Hornet, clocking in 14 points, seven rebounds and four assists off the bench.
If these two can continue to play at this level — or at least near it — it would go a long way in helping the Hornets survive this Al Jefferson-less stretch and throughout the rest of the season.
An interesting trend is developing
There is another reason the play of the Hornets' big men is so important — rebounding. The Hornets are 6-2 over their last eight games. In the two losses, the team was outrebounded by at least 10. Controlling the boards is crucial for the Hornets' success.
But the Hornets are interesting in that they do not have any one player who controls the boards and grabs all the rebounds with Michael Kidd-Gilchrist out. The team's leading rebounder — Marvin Williams — averages just 7.1 rebounds per game, but the Hornets have four players who average at least five boards a game, and Jeremy Lamb is just below that line at 4.8. Charlotte likes to have their big guys focus on boxing on while the guards and small forward grab the ball (case in point — Nicolas Batum led the team with 11 rebounds against the Bulls).
Just something to keep an eye on moving forward.