While the Charlotte Hornets remain above .500 and fourth in the Eastern Conference, last night’s loss against the Brooklyn Nets was another suggestion the team isn’t quite living up to it’s potential. And sure, the Hornets were never pegged by most as a team full of potential, but they’ve managed to keep their heads slightly above the mud that has sunk seven of the next eight teams below the .500 mark, and above a few teams that were expected to leap over them heading into the season. That said, losses like last night keep them closer to the mess below them, rather than with the likes of Toronto and Boston, who have figured it out, or are starting to.
Along with last night, the Hornets have three bad losses this season. The first was the overtime loss to New Orleans, which would have taken them to 9-3 on the season had they won. The second was the overtime loss at home to Minnesota. Put those two games along with last night’s in the win column, and the Hornets are 20-11 and two games up on Boston for third. And I know the dangers of playing the “what if” game, but the Hornets held double-digit leads in all three games and let the opposition come back and win either in regulation or overtime. Considering these three teams rank 11th, 13th, and 14th in their respective conferences, it’s hard not to consider the what if’s.
The trend, both previously and last night, comes from a lack of defensive stops. The Hornets did what they needed to on offense, outscoring the Nets 52-36 in the paint, while also taking care of the ball, committing just 11 turnovers (for the season, they rank second in the league at 11.9 a game).
But defensively, Charlotte couldn’t make enough stops consistently, particularly from the 3-point line. Brooklyn shot 15-31 from beyond the arc, which isn’t good no matter the opponent, but even worse given the Nets rank 29th in the league in 3-point percentage, shooting just 32.8 percent as a team. Both Bojan Bogdanovic and Sean Kilpatrick made 4-7, and of the nine players that attempted a 3-pointer, Joe Harris was the only player who didn’t make one.
Brooklyn did most of their damage in the second and fourth quarters, making five from beyond the arc in each. In the second quarter, Charlotte went on a 7-0 run to extend their lead to 51-38 with 8:44 remaining, forcing Brooklyn to call timeout. At this point it felt as if Charlotte was on the verge of turning a 13 point lead into one of 20 points or more, but Brooklyn managed to trim the deficit, countering Charlotte’s 2-pointers with 3’s, and eventually getting to within six. While Charlotte went into halftime up nine, it was another wasted opportunity to put away an inferior team.
In the fourth, Charlotte failed on four occasions to make a needed stop. After going down by six with 4:18 remaining, Marvin Williams connected from 3 to cut the score in half, but Kilpatrick answered with a 3 of his own to push it back to six. Forty seconds later, Nicolas Batum put Charlotte right back in it after drawing and converting a four point play. Then, after actually getting a defensive stop, Cody Zeller tied it up. Then, Charlotte gave the lead right back, allowing Kilpatrick to knock down his second of the quarter. Bogdanovic launched a 3-pointer over the semi-outstretched hand of Batum, giving Brooklyn a four point lead with a 1:06 remaining. This one was more frustrating than than the previous two, given that Batum sort of let Bogdanovic shoot over him.
And yet despite all of this, the Hornets found themselves up one with 2.3 seconds remaining, until Randy Foye made his only shot of the game:
Kemba Walker does a good job of defending Foye, but better offense won out to end the game in a fitting way.
Losses like this can expose a team’s flaws, and it’s evident the Hornets are not defending well enough from the 3-point line. While they rank a league average 12th in opponent 3-point percentage at 35.3 percent, teams are making 10.6 3-pointers a game against them, which is third highest in the league. Part of Steve Clifford’s defensive system is to defend the paint which partly examples why teams attempt roughly 30 3-pointers a game against them, but the Hornets have to defend from the perimeter better, or at the very least, not allow a bottom ranking 3-point shooting team to make 15 3’s in one game. Putting teams away starts on the defensive end, and Charlotte must do this more consistently or risk being pulled further back into the standings.