At the start of the season, the Charlotte Hornets were winning games due to their elite offense. They began the year a red-hot 4-1 and everything was looking good. Then things went dark. Over their next seven games, the Hornets would go 1-6. Their offense stalled and their defense was still poor, and as one can imagine, that led to ugly results. However, Charlotte has gone 4-0 since that tough seven-game stretch truly embodying the term “rollercoaster of emotions.”
Not only have they won four straight, but they managed to take down the top team in the East (Washington Wizards) and the top team in the West (Golden State Warriors) in the process. Their other two wins came against the Memphis Grizzlies and the New York Knicks - two teams striving for the playoffs. At first glance, most would assume the reason behind their recent success would be that their offense got hot again. However, that is not the case. Instead, Charlotte’s defense has finally decided to show up.
In the last four games, the Hornets have a top-three defense in the NBA (98.3 DRTG) and allow the fourth-least points per game (98.3 points). Meanwhile, they have the 18th ranked offense (106.0 ORTG) and are 16th in points per game (106.3). So how have they been able to turn things around?
Let’s start by taking a look at Charlotte’s win over the Warriors, who are widely regarded as the best team in the NBA. The Hornets held them to 102 points, their second-lowest scoring total of the season (their other was 101 in their only other loss vs. Memphis). Golden State only shot 28.1 percent from three vs. the Hornets, their lowest mark of the season by over four percent.
MVP candidate Stephen Curry finished with only 24 points, shooting 7-22 from the field and 3-13 from three-point range in the game vs. Charlotte. Andrew Wiggins did end up playing well, but shutting down Curry was a key factor in securing the win for the Hornets. This wasn’t just a one-time fluke with Curry, either, as Charlotte has held each of their last-four opponents to horrible shooting splits.
Over the last four games, Charlotte’s opponents have shot 40.0 percent from the field and 25.3 percent from deep. One game could be considered a fluke, but to see the Hornets hold four opponents in a row to awful shooting splits speaks to their defense, not the struggles of their opponents.
Charlotte is making a clear effort to switch, stick to defenders, and hustle during rotations. Holding Curry to the splits they did is no easy task. In this current four-game win streak they have also held Julius Randle, RJ Barrett, Kyle Kuzma, and De’Anthony Melton to well below-average games. It’s all about the effort on the defensive end for Charlotte. They may not have the defensive stoppers to contain opposing scorers, but they have displayed the ability to at least make them uncomfortable. Over the last four games, that has proved to be enough. If they can match up their elite, early-season offense with this current high-intensity defense, this could be a dangerous Charlotte Hornets team.