Monday night's loss at Golden State was a weird one for the Hornets. Charlotte was able to stay within striking distance for most of the game, but it felt like they were facing insurmountable odds all game. There are some positives to take away from the loss — heck, I would have gladly taken a ten-point loss against what looks more and more like a historically good defending NBA champion without Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Al Jefferson and Nicolas Batum, but the Hornets are quickly approaching the territory where they can no longer afford moral victories.
Golden State is just that good
It is not like the Hornets played all that poorly. Again, they were missing three of their best players. They outrebounded the Warriors by four — Charlotte has won the vast majority of their games when they do outrebound their competition — and limited Golden State to just three offensive rebounds, all of which came in the first half. Golden State visited the free throw line just six times all game. Charlotte held the Warriors to just 16 points in the fourth quarter. They even earned a few highlights of their own, including Frank Kaminsky pulling this move off on Draymond Green!
So then how did the Hornets give up 111 points? How did they loss yet again to fall to .500?
Simple, really. Golden State is just that good this year.
The Warriors may very well have one of the best teams we have seen in some time, maybe even ever. In order to beat them, especially at Oracle Arena, you need to play perfect basketball. Even then, that may not be enough.
The Hornets were fall from perfect. While it seemed like they were finally beginning to hit their jumpshots, they shot just 44.2 percent from the floor, including 33.3 percent from 3. They had 14 turnovers, which led to 19 Golden State points. They gave up 25 fast break points. They finished the game with just 15 assists. (For comparison's sake, Golden State finished the game with 32 assists, 10 of which came from Green.) Charlotte definitely had some bright spots — they had 42 points in the paint without Jefferson! — but they were far from good enough to beat the Warriors last night.
Where else is the scoring coming from?
Kemba Walker has been scoring out of his mind lately — he came into Monday's game averaging 27.8 points per game since Christmas, tops in the NBA. But aside from him, we are left to wonder each night where scoring will come from, particularly with Jefferson out and Batum day-to-day for Lord knows how much longer. Jefferson (12.5) and Batum (16.3) are two of five Hornets averaging double-figure points this season. Walker, Jeremy Lin (who is dealing with injuries of his own) and Jeremy Lamb are the others. (Lin and Lamb are averaging 11.9 and 11.3 points per game respectively on the season.)
Since Christmas, five Hornets are again averaging double-figure scoring, but only two player are averaging more than 14 a game — Walker and Batum. Charlotte needs someone — Lin, Lamb, Kaminsky, Cody Zeller, anyone — to step up and become a scoring threat beside Walker. While Walker has been playing great lately, it can be argued that the team is not at its best when Walker is averaging more than 20 shot attempts a game, like he has lately.
Where did the defense go?
Charlotte basketball teams have always prided themselves on defense, finishing among the best in the NBA in most defensive categories. This season, that has not been the case. The Hornets currently rank 14th in opponents points per game, giving up 100.4 per contest. But in the six games since Christmas, that defense has continued to dissolve, as Charlotte has given up an average of 106 points per game over that span.
With their jump shots and 3-pointers not falling like they were to begin the season, Charlotte needs to get back to its roots and show the defensive intensity that they became so well known for. Hopefully, the team has not forgotten it.