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Unnecessary first-half deficit keeps Hornets from completing comeback

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Trevor Ariza and Corey Brewer contributing heavily to a 67-point first half built a Houston Rockets lead that was too much to fight back from for the Charlotte Hornets.

NBA: Charlotte Hornets at Houston Rockets Erik Williams-USA TODAY Sports

The Charlotte Hornets fought valiantly last night against one of the best teams in the NBA, the now 31-9 Houston Rockets.

Despite missing two key players in Nicolas Batum and Cody Zeller and facing a 20-point disadvantage in the last period, the bees had the ball down by 3 with 28 seconds left and thus had the chance to at least force overtime.

Moreover, Charlotte earned the right to earn the victory while playing on Houston’s terms. The pace was at a high 101.24 (the Rockets are fourth in the league at 100.93) and both teams launched away a combined 82 3-pointers. Houston, of course, leads the league with 39.8 3-point attempts per game.

This time around, though, it was Charlotte that had the upper hand in the 3-point battle with 19 makes on 43 attempts to Houston’s 17-for-39.

Who knows what would have happened if there hadn’t been a need for a 28-7 run in the fourth quarter in the first place.

James Harden’s 40-15-10 line is semi-defendable when you acknowledge the tough and contested 3-pointers the MVP candidate nailed. The Beard did get a few too many easy drives to the paint, even against Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, however, dealing with him is a load due to the numerous ways he can hurt you on offense.

It was the contributions from Trevor Ariza and Corey Brewer — the latter stepping up in the absence of Sixth Man of the Year candidate Eric Gordon — that seemed to hurt in particular.

Houston scored 30 of its 44 total points in the paint in the first half and a decent amount of them came from somewhat unexpected threats as Ariza and Brewer combined for 14 points on shots in the paint and free throws.

With all due respect to Trevor Ariza and the very respectable 13-year career he has put together, Jeremy Lamb and Roy Hibbert should close down the baseline to prevent this drive for a basket:

Dealing with Houston’s modern “only threes and layups” offense is admittedly hard. Over-commit on one action and it’s very likely that it will result in the Rockets finding a decent look from three after swinging the ball.

However, that’s also the reason why you should contain the lesser offensive players one-on-one. Ariza beating Marco Belinelli on a close out and starting to create for others is sub-optimal:

The same applies for him calling an isolation against Frank Kaminsky and taking matters in his own hands.

For context, this was the third field goal make by Ariza on an isolation play for the whole season, per stats.nba.com. Last season he was good for only 9 on 33 field goal attempts.

Meanwhile, his partner in crime Corey Brewer devastated the Hornets in transition. Him out-sprinting Ramon Sessions for an easy layup is just one of the many mistakes Charlotte made while retreating on defense:

It might sound oversimple, but if the Hornets hadn’t shot themselves in the foot for about 10 good points on such transition gaffes, the win could have been theirs.

This team should play better than the fifth worse defensive team in the league (the Hornets have given up 110.1 points per 100 possessions in the last 16 games). Sometimes you have to wonder, though, how is it possible that the Hornets are still ninth in defensive efficiency for the whole season when you acknowledge the current bad streak the team is on.

Some other observations:

Roy Hibbert is still not looking completely healthy, especially when lumbering up and down the court in transition. This spill occurred just out of nowhere:

(Perhaps, Harden’s proximity spooked him, but going through it frame by frame you can see that reason for the fall was Hibbert kicking himself.)

Kemba Walker had some unusual problems against Houston’s aggressive traps in the first half:

You would think that Kemba would split that sucker against the veteran Nene, instead of doing the cardinal sin of stopping alongside the sideline (effectively a third defender) and picking up his dribble, to boot.

He mostly corrected such mistakes in the second half, despite a total of five turnovers for the game. Also, I love the fact that Stephanie Ready is keeping track of Kemba Walker’s charges. He indeed is third in the league at the current moment.

Lastly, it was great to see Frank Kaminsky putting together a very solid performance. It’s too bad that he was possibly robbed of the opportunity of tying the game with three free throws.

Personally, I’m against referees calling shooting fouls on plays where the shooter goes through an unnatural motion just to get the contact, but it certainly is something that gets the whistle quite a lot.

You be the judge of whether this was worthy of a call.