Christmas came early.
After losing four straight games, the Hornets now find themselves on the heels of a three-game winning streak heading into the holiday weekend. In the 103-91 win over the Chicago Bulls, the team got contributions from everybody. It was a game only really separated by the Hornets' 26-14 second quarter. More impressively, though, they were able to take any punch the Bulls threw at them while trying to close the gap in the second half.
The biggest headline comes from Nicolas Batum's performance and deservedly so. Batum posted his seventh career triple-double- third with the Hornets- in a 20 point, 11 rebound, 10 assist night. Although it was only his first triple-double of the season, Batum's production has put himself among some elite company this season:
Since joining the Hornets last season, Batum has seen career improvements in points, rebounds and assists, and last night was yet another reason why. His presence on the floor is calming in many ways, and we've come to expect big plays out of him when it matters. Let's run this game winner from the win on Tuesday again because why not?
Also, he and Kemba Walker have proven to be a dangerous backcourt, although not often mentioned in the conversation of best backcourt duos in the NBA. It's doubtful they care, but they feed off one another incredibly and even matched each other in points with 20 in the win over the Bulls.
In many ways, Batum is the glue-guy. The Hornets have arguably become one of the best passing teams in the NBA, and while many deserve a nod, Batum may deserve the most. The Hornets rank sixth in the NBA in assists with an average of 23.7 per game, and are third in percentage of field goal makes assisted on. The story was no different last night with the Hornets dishing out 25 assists led by Batum's 10.
Credit the screen and roll game that was in full-effect against the Bulls, but also credit the abilities of all players on the team. Even the front court players have great passing skills, and it has clearly become a major part of the team's philosophy. Trust is apparent all around and it's why the Hornets have become so fun to watch.
Referring back to the game, if there was another trend, it had to do with the defense-to-offense conversions. With a season-high 13 blocks, the Hornets found themselves running the fast break often and with success. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist blocked four shots himself and set the the tone on defense early. He had a monster block in the second quarter that eventually led to a Cody Zeller tap-in on the other end. Plays like that were much of the reason behind Batum's excellent passing night. Arguably, Batum is his best when in transition. He has an ability to see the entire floor and utilize open spaces. Here's another nice transition play that finishes with a Marvin Williams 3-pointer off a Batum feed:
Even Michael Jordan was impressed.
The Hornets are not necessarily a team that relies heavily upon transition baskets, as they rank 26th in the NBA in percentage of their points coming from the fast break. But the Hornets do rely on their defensive performances. Therefore, it's a win-win when a great defensive play can spark an easy transition basket, especially when there are several capable passers and finishers on the floor. Many of the 13 blocked shots helped get the Hornets out to a comfortable lead in the second quarter, but the five they had in the second half also proved to be crucial when the Bulls made a run in the third.
Additionally, it can't go unnoticed how much the defense frustrated the Bulls, Robin Lopez and Taj Gibson in particular. Both Bulls players got ejected in the last minute. Lopez elbowed both Zeller and Williams at the same time and was assessed a flagrant two, whereas Gibson picked up a second technical foul arguing the call.
It's been no secret: the Hornets tend to win when they play great defense and/or Batum has a great night. Both were the case last night.