The narrative from Sunday's 112-103 loss to the Cavaliers and Tuesday's 96-90 loss to the Raptors are quite similar to one another — Hornets start off slow, digging themselves in a big hole. Hornets reawaken, cut a 20+-point lead down to just three or four points. Hornets just do not have enough to get over the last hump and ultimately fall on the road to one of the top teams in the East.
There were bright sides, of course. It is refreshing and encouraging to see the never-say-die attitude Charlotte has adopted this season, which I would argue has become the team's new trademark. The Hornets are never fully out of a game, which can lead to exciting games and a positive attitude throughout the team, thanks to their defense and 3-point shooting. The Hornets turned the ball over only six times. Jeremy Lin, starting for the injured Nic Batum, finished with a team-high 21 points and seven assists. Al Jefferson had only five points off the bench, but did grab 11 rebounds (five offensive) and dished four assists. As poorly as the Hornets played in the first half, that is how well the team played in the fourth quarter, led by Jeremy Lamb and Kemba Walker. Oh, and the Hornets were able to keep it close with the Raptors despite not having the services of Batum.
But the cons outweigh the pros on a night like tonight. The Hornets are now on their first losing streak since January, at time when they can ill afford losses as they battle for playoff position. These slow starts seem to be becoming a norm, which the team cannot do in the playoffs if it hopes to advance past the first round. After riding their three-point shooting for most of the year, it has cooled off recently. Tuesday marked the first time in four games that the Hornets shot better than 30 percent from deep, and they didn't fare much better than that against the Raptors (31.4 percent). The Raptors were able to feast on the Hornets inside whenever they wanted, as Charlotte had no answer for Jonas Valanciunas (12 points, 12 boards).
The great irony of it all is that Charlotte has the answer to their biggest weakness right now (inside presence) on their roster a year ago (Bismack Biyombo).
Charlotte now has no room for error if it wants to earn home court advantage in the first round of the playoffs. The schedule is favorable (only one of the remaining five games is against an opponent with a record above .500), but none of the tiebreakers are on Charlotte's side.
Perhaps playing in front of the bright lights of MSG on Wednesday night will inspire the Hornets to the quick start that has been eluding them lately.