When: Sunday, March 1st, 1:00 pm EST
Where: Spectrum Center; Charlotte, NC
How to watch: Fox Sports Southeast, NBA TV
The Charlotte Hornets face off tonight against Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks for the third and final time this season. Charlotte is 0-2 versus Milwaukee on the year and were outscored by a combined 54 points in those two previous meetings. This might be a good time to mention the Bucks have the NBA’s best record.
This young, developing Hornets squad deserves major credit for how they have bounced back after going 3-19 between mid-December and early February. Losing that many games over that long of a period of time has the potential to fracture teams and send the rest of the season spiraling down the tubes. Instead, James Borrego’s crew has regrouped and gone 5-2 over their last seven games. Their thrilling road victory on Friday against the Toronto Raptors, whose 42-17 record is second best in the Eastern Conference, was a statement win for a suddenly resurgent Hornets team. A victory over the Bucks would officially vault Charlotte into the “smoking hot” category.
I don’t need to go into much detail breaking down tonight’s game against the Bucks. Milwaukee ranks third in the NBA in offensive rating and leads the league in defensive rating by a country mile. The Bucks play with the NBA’s fastest pace and constantly put pressure on opposing defenses with their transition game. Milwaukee is the clear favorite to represent the Eastern Conference in the NBA Finals and it wouldn’t be surprising to see them take home the title.
If you care enough about the NBA to be reading this, you already know how good Giannis is. The Milwaukee player I’d like to highlight, therefore, is Khris Middleton who missed Friday’s game due to “neck soreness” and we’ll know more about his status against Charlotte sometime before tip off. It’s hard to call him underrated when he’s been named an All-Star in each of the last two seasons, but the average NBA fan might not fully appreciate how much he brings to the table. There are only four players in the league averaging at least 20 points, six rebounds, and four assists per game while shooting at least 50 percent from the field - Giannis, Nikola Jokic, Karl-Anthony Towns, and Middleton. He’s hitting a blistering 43 percent of his three-point shots and plays solid perimeter defense. While it’s easy to get transfixed by Antetokounmpo’s brilliance, don’t sleep on Khris Middleton.
The Hornets should be commended for righting the ship over their last seven games. It will take the performance of the year for them to knock off the Bucks, but at this point of the season and with this kind of team, that’s not really the point. Even if they lose tonight, this young Hornets team can still learn valuable lessons from one of the league’s elite teams that has reached the standard the Hornets aspire to attain in the years to come.
But if Charlotte pulls off another win, which would give them back-to-back victories against the two best team in the east, then anything is possible for the rest of the season. With as unpredictable as the Eastern Conference is, a win tonight could potentially open the door to a late playoff push.