When: 7pm est.
Where: Time Warner Cable Arena, Charlotte, NC
TV: Fox Sports South, Deep Web internet streams
Tonight, the Charlotte Hornets take on the Washington Wizards. Every game is important, but being a division matchup the stakes are just a bit higher, even if Charlotte isn't really competing for playoff seeding with Washington. Division records matter though, particularly when the margins of which teams finish 7th and 8th in the Eastern Conference are small. The Hornets enter Monday night's game with a 7-4 division record, which by the way, is second best in the Southeast Division. They have beat the Wizards twice already this season (in back-to-back games) and are 5-1 against the Wizards dating back to last season.
While Charlotte rides a five game winning streak, the Wizards are 2-8 in the last ten, including a six game losing streak through much of February. They have slipped to 5th place in the East, and could fall as far as 6th place with Milwaukee just a game and a half back after they beat the Wizards Saturday.
So what has gone wrong? Washington is averaging just 90.7 points a game in their 9 games since the All-Star break, averaging 99.7 in 54 games before the break. Defensively, they giving up 101.4 points a game since the break, up from 97.3 before. They have struggled without Bradley Beal, who has missed games throughout the season, appearing in only 45. Reserve forward Kris Humphries has also missed time recently due to injury. Beal was rested Saturday, and it is unknown at this time whether he will play tonight. Humphries' status is also unknown.
As the Wizards struggle, the Hornets are surging. They have put the recent five game losing streak behind them, and have picked up key wins against playoff hopefuls Brooklyn, Boston, and Detroit. They are 4-0 so far in March, and are averaging 105 points a game while allowing only 92.8. A win against Washington would be a nice way to start off a three game home stand before hitting the road next week.
The continued emergence of Michael Kidd-Gilchrist will be key tonight. Chris Barnewall wrote a great piece on why MKG is the defensive player of the year, and he's right. Want proof? Check Reggie Jackson's box score from last night. Jackson, who had 21 points in the first half, was held to just four in the second half after head coach Steve Clifford had MKG defend Jackson. This isn't the first time MKG has switched to guard the other team's primary scorer, and it has proven effective. It wouldn't be surprising to see him guard John Wall if Wall were to get hot, but expect him to defend Paul Pierce from the outset.
Another strong game from Al Jefferson would be quite welcome as well. Jefferson had 24 points on 10-14 shooting last night, and looked very much like the All-NBA Jefferson the team started a paint can campaign for. While Mo Williams has been picking up the scoring load for the backcourt, the offense still runs through Jefferson, and if he could get either Nene or Marcin Gortat in foul trouble, the Wizards would be stretched thin in the front court, particularly if Humphries is out.
Finally, Lance Stephenson should look to make it three straight solid games. Stephenson scored seven of his 9 points in the fourth quarter of last night's game, and had arguably his best game of the season last Friday against the Toronto Raptors. He is playing more in control, and his decision making has improved as well. His confidence has to be growing, and that could bode well for the Hornets the rest of the season.
For the team, defending the paint has to be a priority. The Pistons scored 60 points in the paint last night, and the Wizards could punish Charlotte down low unless they defend better at the rim, and rebound the ball. A bounce back game from Bismack Biyombo would help, as he looked lost at times trying to defend Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe, forcing Clifford to play Jason Maxiell.
Despite the Wizards' struggles, it should be a tightly contested game. The Hornets are coming off the second game of a back to back, so legs won't be fresh. Momentum however, is on their side, and with three games in a row at home the Hornets would do well to capitalize on the Wizards' recent struggles.