The Charlotte Hornets didn’t get the finish to 2016 they had hoped for.
In a New Year’s Eve battle, the Hornets hosted the Cleveland Cavaliers, where yesterday’s birthday boy, LeBron James, led his squad to a 121-109 victory at the Spectrum Center in Charlotte.
Simply put, the Hornets can’t win if they don’t defend. Head coach Steve Clifford was pretty adamant after the game, noting that the team can’t afford to play the way the way did defensively because offensively, they can’t keep up in shootout games with teams such as the Cavaliers.
That was certainly the case tonight. The Hornets were able to score at a decent rate thanks to Kemba Walker’s standout 37 points, but giving up 71 points in the first half didn’t help their chances to win.
As we’ve seen a few too many times this season, the Hornets struggled to defend the 3-point line, giving up 14 makes on 31 attempts. What made it worse was the Cavaliers making 12-18 beyond the arc in the first half. Sure, that means the Cavaliers only shot two of 13 in the second half, but at that point the floor had been spread to a point where every other option was open.
While the Hornets rank among the middle of the league in opponent’s 3-point percentage, the 10.7 3-point field goal makes they give up on average every game is tied for most in the league. That also means they’ve rendered the most 3-point field goal attempts in the league at 30.3 per game.
The story was similar against the Brooklyn Nets on Monday, when they gave up 15 3-point makes on 31 attempts.
Strangely, Kyrie Irving missing last night’s game was a blessing in disguise for the visiting Cavaliers. Cleveland never wants to be without Irving, but last night it gave James the incentive to be even more aggressive, than he normally is. James scored 17 first quarter points and hit three shots from beyond the arc to set the game’s tone. Kevin Love also continued his stellar season with a 28 point, 10 rebound night. And the anomaly of them all was Jordan McRae. Having watched him during the 2016 Summer League, it’s no secret that he can score in a flurry, but this was one of his biggest real-game responsibilities and he didn’t disappoint with a 20 point outing on eight of 12 shooting.
The story has been much of the same when the Hornets give up 100 or more points. In those games, the team is 6-14, and on average give up over 12 3-point makes per game. In their true identity, the Hornets are a defensive-minded team under Coach Clifford, but many times this season have gotten off to slow starts and been unable to recover. Even though the Hornets are their best in the third quarter, it has become a do-or-die 12 minutes in most of games. Last night was another example of a slow and sluggish start and the Cavaliers took full advantage.
Last night’s loss continued the poor streak the Hornets have against the Cavaliers. Since James’ return to Cleveland, the Hornets are 1-9 against them, and this season, James has averaged 31.7 points, 9.0 assists and 7.7 rebounds in the three games against Charlotte — numbers that are above his season averages. It’s hard to fault anyone in particular because James is virtually unstoppable and has been over the span of his career, but it’s clear James enjoys playing against Charlotte. Ironically enough, Irving is the one player out the team’s big three that the Hornets have had success dealing with, averaging just 15 points in two prior games, before not playing last night.
The Hornets end 2016 with 19-15 record, which is still pretty favorable in the Eastern Conference. However, they haven’t proved they can compete with best yet. On the season, they are 5-9 against teams with a .500 record or better. That means 15 of their wins have come against teams with losing records. The Hornets went 6-17 last January, starting the month losing five straight. Hopefully January 2017 is kinder to them.