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Preview: Hornets look to right the ship in second-straight matchup with Pacers

Charlotte has dropped six of their last seven games, and their upcoming schedule does not favor them

Indiana Pacers v Charlotte Hornets Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

What: Charlotte Hornets (7-11) vs Indiana Pacers (11-7)

When: 7:00 pm EST

Where: Spectrum Center; Charlotte, NC

How to watch: Fox Sports South(east), NBA League Pass

Tonight’s rematch against the Indiana Pacers may be the last chance for the Charlotte Hornets to get back on track before they reach a grueling portion of their schedule. Charlotte has lost six out of their last seven games, and with games against the Milwaukee Bucks, Miami Heat, Philadelphia 76ers and Utah Jazz coming up, things could go south quickly if the Hornets aren’t able to collect some wins soon.

Domantas Sabonis recorded his first triple-double of the season Wednesday night, tallying 22 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists while shooting 9-10 from the field. At this point, Sabonis has firmly established himself as an All-Star caliber player and one of the best bigs in the NBA. Nothing the Hornets can/will do on defense is going to take him out of the game; the focus should be on preventing his teammates from getting to their spots.

That did not work out in the last game, with Doug McDermott coming off the bench to score 28 points in 28 minutes, making just one 3-pointer in the process. Allowing McDermott, a career-long spot-up shooting role-player, to carve up your defense attacking closeouts and cutting off-ball is going to result in a loss 11 times out of 10. Gordon Hayward and Miles Bridges were getting beat backdoor the entire game, which has become a theme in the zone defense schemes during this rough patch. Justin Holiday fouled out of the game, but he knocked down five of his 10 3-point attempts, most of which came off of late/bad/incorrect rotations in the zone. If a team is going to shoot 40 percent from deep while the Hornets play mostly zone like Indiana did, the Hornets are going to lose—often.

However, the upside to the zone and James Borrego’s overall defensive mindset is that when an opponent’s threes aren’t falling, the game becomes fairly easy. Two-point shots aren’t worth as many points as three-point shots (breaking news), which, in theory, means that allowing Sabonis to bully the Hornets down low isn’t a bad plan for victory so long as the defenders on the edges of the zone (i.e. not Cody Zeller, PJ Washington or Bismack Biyombo) are committed to making rotations and closing out.

Former Hornet Jeremy Lamb put up three points on 1-6 shooting in 21 minutes, but it’s been nice to see him out on the court after his brutal knee injury last season. The ideal scenario for tonight’s game would be for Lamb to drop 40 in a double-digit Hornets win.

There were some minor tweaks in the Hornets’ rotation last game; Malik Monk played 14 minutes, scoring seven points on 3-6 from the floor with two assists, which led to Caleb Martin and Cody Martin not getting off the bench. Monk has played well enough to warrant more minutes, and since neither Martin twin has been impactful in recent games, it would be remiss not to keep him in the rotation. With LaMelo Ball in the midst of the first “slump” of his career, the second unit has a dearth of scoring punch, and even an inconsistent Monk provides that at a higher level than the Martin twins. Biyombo’s playing time also dropped from starter-level minutes to 11, and that should continue to go down as Zeller rounds into form and it becomes even more apparent that Biyombo significantly hinders the Hornets on both ends of the floor.

The Hornets are sliding right now, and it will be difficult to catch themselves before mid-February rolls around. It’s about time for us to temper our expectations for this team; there’s a reason that the front office and coaching staff have not once mentioned the word “playoffs” in press conferences. They knew there was still a lot of development that needed to happen before the Hornets were ready to compete at that level. The talent level is there, but this is the fourth-youngest team in the NBA coming off of a nine-month offseason. A play-in berth for this season is a bonus, not an expectation.