Tuesday night's 106-78 loss to the Detroit Pistons served as an acknowledgement for what many knew but hoped to never admit, that the Charlotte Hornets' sustained success despite the injuries couldn't last forever. It's remarkable the team went 10-4 in January despite losing Al Jefferson, Kemba Walker and Bismack Biyombo for long, varied stretches. With all the injuries, the team could have laid itself out to die. Instead, they pushed their way up the standings and into the seventh seed in the East.
However, sustaining it was never truly possible, and once Michael Kidd-Gilchrist went down Saturday night against the Philadelphia 76ers, the floor fell out from under them. It's frustrating to watch this team lose three games in a row to teams they were more than capable of beating, but this is what can happen when you are down two starters (and arguably the most important two), and the team's best interior defender (who was playing the best basketball of his career before the injury).
Good teams have players capable of stepping in when other players get hurt. The Hornets had that for a while, but when MKG was taken out of the picture, it became nearly impossible to replicate what he brought along with what was missing from Walker and Biyombo. This team needs to get healthy over the break, or their playoff chances will be put in jeopardy.
Tonight showed the good and bad of the Hornets. In the first half, the team was on fire from the 3-point line, shooting an absurd 72.7 percent. P.J. Hairston made four 3-pointers in the first half, while Gerald Henderson made two of his own.
Down only eight at halftime, the Hornets had hung in thanks to strong outside shooting, but in the second half the shots stopped falling, and the Hornets were unable to consistently make stops. The Pistons drew a lot of fouls as well, and even managed to draw one on Cody Zeller for getting elbowed in the face by Greg Monroe. Plays like that summed up the night to an extent, as the Pistons went 27-30 from the free throw line while Charlotte went 11-14. Charlotte had no one who could consistently defend Monroe (23 points, 12 rebounds) or Andre Drummond (23 points, 12 rebounds), and beloved Bobcat from last season Anthony Tolliver had a revenge game of sorts, scoring 16 points from off the bench, going 3-6 from the 3-point line.
Charlotte was led by Henderson, who finished with 17 points, five assists, and four rebounds. Al Jefferson registered a double-double with 13 points and 10 rebounds, and Jeff Taylor scored 12 points on 5-8 shooting. Hairston finished with 16 points, and while he had a strong first half, he only scored four in the second, and didn't make another 3-pointer.
In the first half the Hornets were gunning, but once the shots stopped falling they looked like a team in desperate need of 10 days off. They were already short handed with Gary Neal off to the Minnesota Timberwolves, but even November Gary Neal couldn't have brought the team back.
The Hornets were outscored 29-14 in the 3rd quarter. Just how bad was their shooting? Well, just take a look:
The Hornets' 3rd quarter was an absolute disaster. pic.twitter.com/LGa5ZQfYdj— Scott Rafferty (@crabdribbles) February 11, 2015
This is the shot chart of a team that needs to collect itself. Charlotte has been a poor shooting team for most of the season, but MKG's absence has sucked the energy out of them, and it showed in the 3rd quarter.
However, help could be on the way. Mo Williams and Troy Daniels are now Hornets, and both (Williams in particular), will bring needed outside scoring. Williams' shooting percentages are down this season, but he still averaged 12.2 points a game off the bench. Any similar kind of production would be welcome.
So now, we look ahead. Zeller is the only Hornet heading to All-Star Weekend as he participates in the Rising Stars Challenge. If he can manage a couple of one hand throw downs in transition, I think he'll have served the team well. After that, we won't see any Hornets play again until February 21st against the Oklahoma City Thunder. Here's to a healthier, and more successful final stretch to the season.