The Charlotte Hornets just completed a two-game stretch against the two worst teams in the Eastern Conference last year. While there is still plenty of basketball to be played, the Philadelphia 76ers and the Brooklyn Nets figure to be at the bottom of the standings yet again this season.
While Charlotte emerged from the contests with a pair of wins, a troubling trend is beginning to emerge. The Hornets are allowing their opponents to jump out to meaningful leads in the first half.
Brooklyn pushed out to a 13-point lead in the first quarter on a combination of penetration to the rim and hot shooting from behind the arc. Charlotte battled back to tie the game at the end of the first. Yet again Brooklyn took a 13-point in the second quarter, and furious scoring from Nicolas Batum and Kemba Walker was required to pull the Hornets out in front.
Against a team missing Jeremy Lin, the Hornets should have walked all over Brooklyn. Instead they fell behind early and often, turning an inferior opponent into a hard-pressed victory.
If it was one game the issue would be less acute, but the streak is now at four games. Wednesday night at home against the 76ers - missing Joel Embiid and Nerlens Noel - Charlotte fell behind by 13 points during the first half. Against they managed to battle back for the victory, but against good teams that road won’t be so easy.
In fact it wasn’t Saturday night, when Charlotte hosted the Boston Celtics. The Celtics held a first-half lead of as many as 16 points. Although Charlotte rallied to take the lead in the second half, Boston’s answering push overtook the Hornets and Charlotte lost its first and only game of the young season.
If three games is a bad habit, then four games is a trend. Last Friday night Charlotte kicked off the slow starts by spotting the Miami Heat a 19-point lead in the first half. Again Kemba Walker heroics were required for the comeback, and the Hornets held out to win the game against a depleted Heat squad.
Brooklyn is not a pushover, but they also aren’t going to be one of the teams Charlotte is jockeying with for playoff positioning. If the Hornets aspire to host a playoff series and get out of the first round, they need to win easily against the league’s worst teams and get out to fast starts against the league’s contenders. Sloth-level slow starts need to be excised from the playbook.
With the inconsistent Indiana Pacers coming to town next, Charlotte gets an opportunity to start fast and turn this trend into a distant memory.