The Charlotte Hornets are just not playing good basketball right now, for whatever reason. Perhaps it has been the injuries. Perhaps the lack of Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Al Jefferson is finally catching up to them. Perhaps it is a massive regression to the team's white hot shooting in the beginning of the season. Perhaps it is the team's 4-13 record away from the Hive (which is something to begin to worry about that this point). Perhaps it is a combination of all those factors.
Whatever the reason, Sunday's loss at Denver was one of the team's worst losses this season. The Nuggets came into the game 13-24, including 2-8 over their previous 10. It was the second of a back-to-back in the mile high air of Colorado, but it was still a game the Hornets should have won. Let's take a closer look at why they did not.
The way the game started off, you would have never expected that Charlotte's offense would become a problem. The team made 50 percent of their shots in the first quarter, scoring 26 and spreading the ball around nicely. Nicolas Batum showed why he could be so valuable to the team, as he and Cody Zeller did their best to pick and roll the Nuggets every opportunity they had. The Hornets started off with assists on 14 of their first 16 field goals (they would finish the night with assists on 24 of their 30 field goals).
But in the second half, the team just could not buy a basket to save their lives. The offenses sputtered between moving the ball around for open shots and, when shots from those open looks did not fall, hero ball as players did almost anything to try and get the team's offense going.
As far as I am aware, the Denver Nuggets are not a team known for their strong interior defense. But Charlotte shot 12-for-29 on shots within 5 feet of the basket, including 3-for-11 on layups, according to NBA.com (41.4 percent and 27.3 percent, respectively). And often, when the team was missing short shots, they were chucking up threes. The Hornets looked more like the Duke basketball teams of old last night, taking threes whenever they could. But, unlike those old Duke teams, the threes did not fall — Charlotte went 12-36 from deep (33.3 percent).
Only two players finished with a shooting percentage of more than 50 percent — Cody Zeller (6-for-11) and Marvin Williams (3-for-3). Kemba Walker and Jeremy Lin combined to shoot 3-for-21 from the field. P.J. Hairston and Batum each went 3-of-8 from the floor. Frank Kamisnky came off the bench to add 14 points, but shot 4-of-12.
Long story short, it was an ugly offensive night for most of the game for Charlotte.
Defensive woes continue
You would think that it would be turnovers that doomed Charlotte, like they have multiple times this season. Or maybe the Nuggets were able to get plenty of easy baskets on fast breaks, as teams have been able to do before.
But neither was the case. The Hornets finished with 13 turnovers, but only three came in the second half. Plus they limited the Nuggets to 12 fast break points.
Heck, they even prevented Denver from scoring a single point over the game's last 4:17.
So why do I say that the defense continued to struggle? Because over the first half of the game, the Nuggets were shooting like they were still in warmups. Denver dropped 36 on Charlotte in the first quarter, shooting 60 percent from the field. The Nuggets finished the game making 13 of their 25 attempts in the restricted area.
Charlotte, defensively, is a shell of their former selves. Without MKG and without a proven inside presence on defense, they have struggled. Since the first of December, Charlotte has been giving up 101.9 points per game, which ranks 16th in the Association. Since, January 1? 104.5 points per game, aka seventh-worst in the league.
I've been saying this for a few weeks now, but Charlotte needs to refind their defensive identity ASAP.