The Hornets may have taken their opposition lightly after a couple of hard fought games on Sunday and Monday. They were apathetic defensively as the Magic got into the paint at will. LaMelo Ball committed two early fouls and had to be pulled from the game before making an impact. Gordon Hayward committed a couple of bad turnovers, and the Hornets dug themselves a quick 12-point hole. The bench brought the energy the Hornets were lacking. Ish Smith (6) and Cody Martin (8) combined for 14 points in the first quarter as the Hornets fought back to tie the game at 31 after one.
The Hornets didn’t run away from the Magic after the bench started the run. The starters didn’t build on it, but they played much better than they did in the first go around. Miles Bridges cam alive in the second quarter and went into the half with 17 points. While the offense was crisper, the defense was still lacking. The Magic continued to get into the paint pretty effortlessly, which led to lots of wide open looks from three. They hit ten first half 3-pointers to keep them in the game. At the half, the Hornets led by three.
In his interview with Ashley ShahAhmadi coming out of the half, Hornets assistant coach Chad Iske expressed that he wanted better defense out of his starters. They did not provide it. The Magic scored 24 points in just over seven minutes to start the second half and turned a three point Hornets lead into an eight point Hornets deficit. Bridges got going again to keep the Hornets in the game, scoring eight points in the later parts of the quarter. In all, the Hornets gave up a third straight 30 point quarter to a Magic team that came into the game 27th in the league in offensive efficiency.
Jalen McDaniels, who put together a pretty nice third quarter, hit a pair of 3-pointers early in the fourth to bring him up to a season high 16 for the game. The Hornets finally ratcheted up the defensive intensity and started forcing Magic turnovers. Gordon Hayward and Mason Plumlee combined to string together a few quick baskets to give the Hornets a comfortable lead as crunch time approached. Bridges hit a step back three to put the Hornets up nine with just over a minute to go and all but ice the game. The bucket also gave him his third thirty point game of the season.
The Hornets didn’t bring the intensity from start to finish that you’d like to see, but they kept the game even and turned it on when they needed to in the fourth quarter. They forced eight Magic turnovers and held their opposition to just 18 points in the deciding quarter.
Bridges and Hayward shouldered the heaviest offensive burden as the starting back court of LaMelo Ball and Kelly Oubre struggled. The bench picked up the slack as Cody Martin (12 points) and Jalen McDaniels (16 points) combined to shoot 7-of-9 from the field and 8-of-10 from the free throw line. Mason Plumlee had probably his best game as a Hornet, finishing with 14 points, 10 rebounds, and four assists.
It wasn’t always pretty, but a win is a win. Up next is a nationally televised game against the Miami Heat on ESPN.