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Recap: Hornets mount huge comeback but can’t close the deal, lose to Magic 120-117

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The Hornets rallied from a 23 point deficit to take a late lead, but they couldn’t maintain it as the benches were emptied.

NBA: Preseason-Charlotte Hornets at Orlando Magic Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The Charlotte Hornets overcame a 23 point deficit to take a fourth quarter lead, but they couldn’t hold onto it in the final minutes and dropped their preseason finale to the Orlando Magic, 120-117.

The Magic came out of the gate on fire, hitting five 3-pointers and scoring 21 points in less than five minutes to jump out to an 11 point lead. Three of those 3-pointers were uncontested 3-pointers by Nikola Vucevic. The Magic cooled off after the Hornets called a timeout to get everything under control, but the Hornets still struggled on the other end. Devonte’ Graham carried the Hornets offense down the stretch of the quarter, finishing with 14 points. However, the Magic led 38-27 after one.

The Hornets started the second quarter by promptly turning the ball over and giving up an easy bucket on the other end. That set the tone for what was another poor quarter for the Hornets. Errant passes. Missed rotations and box outs. Everything. They trailed by as many as 23 points before Cody Zeller hit a 3-pointer, because of course. That started a mini-run, mostly scored by Cody Zeller, that pulled the Hornets to within 15. A Terry Rozier stepback 3-pointer brought the Hornets within 14 as the first half mercifully came to a close.

The Hornets other than PJ Washington started the second half better than they did the first. Washington on the other hand had the ball stolen a couple times and missed more bunnies. Devonte’ Graham and Terry Rozier carried the offense early in the half like it was 2019-20. After they cooled off, the game got out of hand. The Magic’s lead grew larger than 20 once again while Miles Bridges looked like the only competent player on the court for the Hornets (and he was very good). Washington bullied into the paint for a couple welcome buckets to help cut the deficit to 16, where it stood heading into the fourth quarter.

The Hornets woke up in the fourth quarter. They put some back court pressure on the Magic, which took them out of their offensive rhythm. Terry Rozier scored nine of the Hornets’ first 10 points as they cut their deficit down to six points. Devonte’ Graham hit a tough floater to pull the Hornets within four and then immediately followed with a contested 3-pointer. Caleb Martin hit a 3-pointer on the next possession to give the Hornets a two point lead. The Hornets scored 18 straight points to start the quarter. The Magic called a timeout. That was followed by two immediate turnovers in the back court that led to five more Hornets points before the Magic finally scored their first points of the fourth quarter. That started a 12-1 run going the other way to put the Magic back on top.

The Hornets got a corner 3-pointer to go back ahead, and that was quickly followed by a LaMelo Ball steal that led to a beautiful transition pass to Malik Monk that would prove to be the last play we’d see from the Hornets core in the preseason.

The Hornets emptied bench eventually squandered that lead to Cole Anthony, who played all the way to the final horn. But that’s okay.

Devonte’ Graham led the Hornets with 25 points. Terry Rozier was close behind with 24. Miles Bridges had an extremely impressive performance off the bench with 12 points and 15 rebounds. Cody Zeller, Caleb Martin, and Malik Monk all reached double figures as well with 13, 11, and 10 respectively.

For as bad as the Hornets looked in the first 30 minutes of the game, they looked just as good for the final 18. Graham and Rozier look poised to pick up where they left off last season, and Miles Bridges looks much improved. There are still flaws that need to be addressed, but this looks like an exciting Hornets team.

The next time we watch the Hornets, it’ll be in a game that counts. That’ll come on Wednesday, when the Hornets will be in Cleveland to take on the Cavaliers.