Where: Spectrum Center; Charlotte, NC
When: 7:00 p.m. EST
How to watch: Fox Sports Southeast, NBA League Pass
I saw The Last Jedi over the weekend, and one of its prominent themes is remaining hopeful in the face of, well, death. If I were to pinpoint where the Hornets season is at compared to a point in the film (without revealing any spoilers), I’d say they’re at the point where certain characters are so desperate to live they’ll go with any plan regardless of how ridiculous it sounds.
The Charlotte Hornets aren’t facing literal death, but it’s fairly evident what likely happens if this season doesn’t turn around. And their plan to turn the season around isn’t really that ridiculous, but it’s not ideal either.
Faced with an under performing bench, the Hornets are shortening their rotation tonight against the New York Knicks. Associate head coach Stephen Silas spoke about this following Saturday’s loss to the Portland Trail Blazers, stating, “It’s not time to develop or gift minutes. Right now, it’s about winning, and my rotation is going to be short for a little while, just until we get this thing back on track.”
That means no Malik Monk or Dwayne Bacon, and likely a nine man rotation of the starters plus, Michael Carter-Williams, Jeremy Lamb, and either Treveon Graham or Johnny O’Bryant III (depending on how they want to match up). It also means more Nicolas Batum with the second unit, which honestly isn’t a bad thing. The bench needs a facilitator, and with Batum coming off his best game of the season, the Hornets should ride with him with as many lineups as possible if he continues to perform well.
It’s understandable if you’re frustrated that neither rookie will play, especially given the play of some of, or really most of, the bench that will. But as Silas said, the team isn’t looking to go through growing pains. This is a roster that expected to make the playoffs, and that goal is quickly fading away. This is also a coaching staff and front office whose jobs are on the line. They’d love to be around to develop the rookies in the next couple of seasons, but that isn’t happening if they aren’t around. So if you’re in the “start the rebuild crowd” understand that likely few within the organization are interested in that right now. Plus, rebuilding isn’t this easy and quick thing that happens, despite what NBA 2K suggests.
A shortened bench will hopefully fix what has been a prevailing issue -- winning close games. The loss to Portland on Saturday was Charlotte’s 13th straight loss in games decided by three points or less. Imagine if they had just won half of those.
If there’s any hope, it’s coming from the Knicks. Star forward Kristaps Porzingis could be out tonight after missing Saturday’s game against the Thunder with a knee injury. The Knicks won despite his absence in what was an emotional return for Carmelo Anthony to New York. But that’s where things could land in Charlotte’s favor. With an emotional win on Saturday, and a big game against the Boston Celtics later this week, tonight could be a trap game for the Knicks. Plus, their road record is as bad as Charlotte’s, with just two on the season thus far. These things can play into the Hornets favor, but only if they perform better offensively while holding New York under their season scoring average as they did with the Trail Blazers.
The season may be spiraling out of control, but something has to give at some point. The Hornets aren’t getting blown out on most nights, suggesting there is enough talent to compete with the majority of the league. But it comes down to winning close games, and until Charlotte does that, it’s going to be hard to convince anyone watching that they can get a win tonight.