If Saturday’s win over the Clippers served primarily to snap the losing streak, Monday’s victory served as a reminder of how good Charlotte can be. Dwight Howard played arguably his best game of the season, finishing with 25 points and 20 rebounds, while Frank Kaminsky stood out from the bench, finishing with 24 points and knocking down 4-for-5 from the 3-point line.
Both had struggled of late, and it shows how much better they make the Hornets when they play effectively. Just look at the fourth quarter — Charlotte led by just four entering the quarter, but outscored Minnesota 34-22, thanks in large part to strong defensive play from the second unit, and converted opportunities from Kaminsky and Howard (who went 9-of-14 from the free throw line for the game). For once, the Hornets were able to win a game without Kemba Walker leading the way. As vital as Walker is to the team’s success, Charlotte needs to play better with him off the floor. On Monday night, they did just that.
The team will need to continuing performing tonight against a Wizards team that leads the Southeast Division, and, as of now, is the only team in the division in the top eight.
As expected, John Wall and Bradley Beal run the show. Wall averages 19.6 points and a team leading 9.1 assists per game, while Beal leads the team in scoring at 24.1 points per game and shooting 48.2 percent from the field. But Washington runs deeper than those two, as Otto Porter averages 15.8 points and 7.3 rebounds per game, and shoots 47 percent from beyond the arc. Remember when folks said he wouldn’t develop an offense?
Also watch out for Kelly Oubre Jr., who leads the bench unit with 11.2 points per game, shooting 41.3 percent from deep. Marcin Gortat remains a handful in the post as well, and averages a near double-double. Beyond them, Markieff Morris and Mike Scott are capable of getting hot as well.
Washington will not be an easy out. Defending Beal will be tough. The first option may be putting Michael Kidd-Gilchrist on him, but that places Nicolas Batum on the more physical Porter. Both players could potentially switch off screens, but they could certainly cause the Hornets issues defensively. While Wall isn’t scoring as much so far this season, he remains incredibly dangerous, particularly in transition. Stopping him will require the team to hone in on Clifford’s defensive principle of limiting transition buckets.
As was the case against Minnesota, the stronger bench could determine the outcome. On paper, Charlotte appears to have the deeper bench, but a lot depends on whether Kaminksy can follow up with another solid outing. Jeremy Lamb seems up for 15 a night, but they will need more scoring than his alone to keep pace.
The Hornets current and upcoming schedule isn’t easy, so winning games as home, no matter the opponent, have to be a priority. A win over Washington would bring them closer to .500, and give the team further confidence as they head into a weekend back-to-back against the Cavaliers and Spurs. In other words, a win would be really nice, because they’ve had a really hard time beating their next two opponents in recent years.