When: 7:00 pm EDT
Where: Spectrum Center; Charlotte, NC
How to watch: Bally Sports Southeast, NBA League Pass
The Hornets should a thank you letter to the NBA for giving them a chance to redeem themselves against the Pacers on opening night. If you forgot, the Hornets 2020-21 season was ended by the Pacers in embarrassing fashion. They gave up 40 points in the first quarter and trailed by double figures for the final 44 minutes and 18 seconds of the contest.
And as fate would have it, their next meaningful game is against those very same Pacers. This Hornets bunch is a bit of a new look crew. Out are Devonte’ Graham, Malik Monk, and Cody Zeller. In are Mason Plumlee, Kelly Oubre, Ish Smith, and some promising rookies. Gordon Hayward was also absent from the play-in contest. He’s back for the Hornets tonight.
The Pacers are much the same group as they have been for a couple of years now. They’ll have Myles Turner and probably Jeremy Lamb back, who were both absent for the play-in game last season. Otherwise, it’s the same crew we’ve seen several times before. Malcolm Brogdan is annoyingly effective with exactly zero flash to his game. Domantas Sabonis is incredibly difficult to handle on the interior, and Mason Plumlee is going to be heavily relied on to limit his effectiveness. The Hornets will need to mirror their minutes as best they can because if the preseason is any indication, the Hornets small ball lineup is going to struggle with beefy centers this season.
The Hornets do catch a break on the injury front. They’ll have their full complement of players, but the Pacers will be without a couple of key pieces. TJ Warren is out for the foreseeable future as he recovers from a foot injury while Caris LeVert is out for another week or two while he deals with a back issue.
It’s hard to say with any certainty what the Pacers will look like systematically. They dismissed head coach Nate Bjorkgren after one dysfunctional season and replaced him with one of the most steady head coaches of this generation. Rick Carlisle has won everywhere he’s been, including in Indiana from 2003 to 2007. It remains to be seen how he’ll handle the double big lineups of Sabonis and Turner and what kind of pace they’ll play at offensively. Based on their personnel, they’ll probably play a half court style, which runs counter to what the Hornets want to do. The Hornets need to dictate the pace with their athleticism to limit the effectiveness of the Pacers defensive size and veteran savvy.
These two teams are projected to be battling with one another for playoff positioning throughout the season, so tonight’s game will be a semi-interesting barometer of how they stack up with one another. But remember, a one game sample means almost nothing, and a lot is going to change between now and April.