Even on the worst of nights, I do love putting on my throwback jacket, strapping in my Jordan 10s and walking into The Hive. The 2019 Charlotte Hornets season started with a bang last night, and even if the place was mostly empty, the people who were there got to see the best this team can play. From the jump you could tell that the team had a plan and each player knew their role and how to execute it.
I will not spend more than a few words on it, but it was notable not to have Kemba Walker’s name called through the speakers of the Spectrum Center during the starting line-up announcement. In the times when we needed a basket, I immediately thought “man, they should get Kemba in the rotation.” But then Washington or Graham would pull up after a fundamental kick pass to the corner and the offense would just tick.
PJ was the headline of the game. The rookie started the game like it was his fourth year in the league. Cool headed in defensive traps, in position for rebounds, he played like a veteran in his first ever NBA game. The way he squared up and took balanced jump shots reminded me of J.J. Redick with way more upside. And that ability to stretch the court allowed Cody Zeller to be comfortable in the offense to the tune of a 15-12 double double. Zeller launched off the earth on some dunks and reminded everyone what it’s like when he is healthy.
It wasn’t everyone’s night. The Hornet’s sixty million dollar point guard was not an asset against the Bulls. His game was off and he was forcing the issue, leading to 20% from the field and four turnovers. But it was hard to see Rozier over the flames coming from Devante Graham. He played like a starter and Borrego granted him starter’s minutes.
Borrego managed the game like it was the playoffs. He played a short rotation. He didn’t mess around with giving minutes to Bizmack or MKG. He played all his starters at or above 30 minutes and Batum didn’t get a shot off. It was as if this game, the first game of the season, was the most important one of the year. As if Borrego was trying to set a tone, that there may be rough days ahead, but this team has talent and grit and a head on its shoulders.
It wasn’t all flowers and honeycombs. The transition defense left lanes open all night like a Waffle House and the Bulls pancaked a few Hornets big men on the break accordingly, but thankfully Bacon was sizzling just to complete the metaphor. Miles Bridges made Markkenan look like Kevin Garnett and Cody White had the hive fearing the fro with his offense off the bench. But certainly the biggest let down last night was the people of Charlotte. If you are privileged enough to be one of the few cities in the world to have a NBA team, you should come and see them on opening night.
But Wednesday was time for celebration. PJ Washington Jr. looks like the best Hornets draft pick since Kemba Walker. Cody Zeller is healthy and making moves. Bridges is destroying rims like they insulted his mother. And this team is playing with pose and organization. There are 81 games yet to play but the Charlotte Hornets are undefeated.