It all came crashing down.
Now with seven straight losses, the Hornets fall to 23-28 on the season and continue to search for answers. That answer could very well be Cody Zeller, who missed his sixth straight game due to a right quad contusion. On the season, the Hornets are 1-12 when Zeller does not play, an alarming record statistic on its own.
As for tonight’s game, it was back and forth until the very end. Basketball is often a game of runs and that was certainly the case tonight:
Identifying with the chart, the Hornets got out to a blazing start and built a comfortable lead midway through the first behind Frank Kaminsky’s aggressive play.
Notching his sixth start of the season, the second-year man scored 10 first quarter points playing at the center position. Unfortunately, in the remaining three quarters of the game, Kaminsky only scored five points and finished 6/15 from the field.
His backup for the night was newly acquired Miles Plumlee, who scored four points and grabbed eight rebounds in over 17 minutes of playing time. Not too bad of a performance considering he was cleared to play earlier today.
Steve Clifford said this morning he would play Miles Plumlee tonight if he was cleared to play (he is). Plumlee hasn't practiced yet.— Rick Bonnell (@rick_bonnell) February 5, 2017
After leading 28-23 through one quarter, the Hornets turned in only 16 points in the second and trailed the Jazz 52-44 at the half. Joe Johnson and George Hill nearly matched the Hornets in those 12 minutes, combining for 15.
Unfortunately, one of the main storylines was the inability of the Hornets’ starters to close out each half. Even with a terrific 38-21 advantage in the third quarter, another 16-point quarter proved to be the difference.
2017 All-Star Kemba Walker scored 12 of his 18 points in the third and placed himself second all-time on the scoring list for the Hornets, surpassing Gerald Wallace at 7,437. Although listed as probable to play throughout the day, Walker’s status was once uncertain because of a battling illness, and at times it was clear he wasn’t 100 percent.
In fact, most of the Hornets players, Walker included, appeared exhausted towards the end of the game, which played a large role in the final score. If it weren’t for Marco Belinelli’s 13 points and Jeremy Lamb’s 12 off the bench, this game could’ve been over well before the fourth quarter.
As for the Jazz, their two All-Stars put on a show for Salt Lake City, as Gordon Hayward scored a game-high 33 points, while Rudy Gobert added 8 points and an impressive 15 rebounds. Hayward’s 11 in the fourth quarter eventually sealed the deal.
Again, the offseason acquisitions, Hill and Johnson made their marks late as well, scoring 25 and 18 including a pair of backbreaking 3-pointers down the stretch of the fourth quarter.
Thankfully, the Hornets return home for a four game home stand on Tuesday starting with the Brooklyn Nets, who they’ve beaten two of the three meetings. However, two of the Western Conference’s best in the Houston Rockets and Los Angeles Clippers are to follow.
On the season, the Hornets are a combined 7-16 against teams that have a .500 record or above.
Hoping they can get Zeller back as soon as possible, the Hornets need a similar February and March to last year’s if they want to seed well for the playoffs. Currently, they stand tied for the eighth spot.