Well, at least the Charlotte Hornets played better tonight than they did on Wednesday. Much of tonight's game against the Portland Trail Blazers wasn't good, but they had flashes that gives hope a healthy team will play better. That said, tonight's team wasn't the healthy group we're looking forward to, and tonight's team was not good.
The game didn't start off too bad with the defense looking solid, and the offense functioning better than it has in the past. In fact, much of the game saw the team falling back on what's worked for them this season with ball movement, drives to the basket, and a steady diet of 3-point shooting. The standing around stopped happening as much, and a huge part of that was Michael Kidd-Gilchrist's return. In his first game back, MKG finished with 13 points and seven rebounds while being a constant source of energy whenever he was on the floor. His first half started off slow, but he made himself known in the second half with a constant attack on the basket.
Where everything went wrong for Charlotte was when the starters came out. This has been a trend for much of the season now where parts of the game usually meant for the bench have been where Charlotte played the worst basketball. Tonight that happened in the second half of the third quarter. The Hornets had managed to enter the first half only down five, but late in the third Portland blew the game wide open. Charlotte couldn't get any kind of offense going, and their defense was so discombobulated that all the Blazers had to do was find the open man on any given possession to get points. Nicolas Batum in particular was exposed horribly at this portion of the game with seemingly nothing going right. He couldn't get points, and had a few defensive lapses that were cringe worthy.
The beginning of the fourth quarter seemed like more of the same, with a bench unit on the floor unable to put points on the board or stop the Blazers at all. Damian Lillard torched Charlotte all night long on his way to 22 points, and he added in three steals just for good measure. Once Portland was up 20 the game appeared to be over.
That's when Steve Clifford threw out one of those transition lineups that are usually intended to slowly stagger the starters back in. Brian Roberts, Nicolas Batum, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Marvin Williams, and Tyler Hansbrough all shared the floor together, and they gave the Hornets their biggest run of the night. It helped that they were also going against Portland's backups, but led by MKG and Roberts this unit forced their way back into the game. The defense played by Batum, Williams, and MKG was phenomenal with Roberts providing some much needed offense.
The key to the "comeback" came from three areas. Energy, defense, and free throw shooting which this lineup had in spades. Hansbrough being a closer would usually sound insane, but his energy led to a lot of second chance moments on the boards, and he recorded his first double-double of the season. Of course, none of that would have mattered if they couldn't stop Portland from scoring which this lineup was actually able to do. Batum may have not been able to get his offense going, but he still played good defense that looked even better next to Williams and Kidd-Gilchrist. They also managed to stop the clock by getting to the free throw line a ton with Hansbrough and MKG combining for 11 free throw attempts in the fourth quarter.
It honestly looked like this rag tag group was going to do it and give Charlotte a chance to win the game at the buzzer. Then, Damian Lillard came into the game and put a stop to that. It was a nice try, but Charlotte dug themselves into too much of a hole early on.
This was far from a good game, but at least we got to see Kidd-Gilchrist come back, and had some tremendous performances out of Williams and Hansbrough. The Hornets lack of health has been a bummer, because they haven't been able to win games, but getting to see some of these end of the bench guys have flashes of brilliance has been one of the few bright spots in such an awful month. Maybe that can start turning into some wins.