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Hornets second half struggles continue; drop 5th straight

Lebron James scored 31 points, Charlotte allowed Cleveland to gobble up 16 offensive rebounds and the Hornets shooting struggles from deep continued (32% in 5 game losing streak) as they sputtered to 6-26 (23%) from deep. Once again, the Hornets faded in the second half en route to their fifth straight defeat – 115-107 final. In a night that saw the return of Nic Batum and the classic pinstripe uniforms for Charlotte, it was anything but a reason to celebrate, and more an opportunity to ponder this team’s continued struggles on both ends of the floor.

Kemba Walker and the offense had some moments in the first half. Charlotte hung 37 points on Cleveland in the second quarter, behind 58% shooting from the floor and 3-6 (50%) from behind the arc. Kemba was in vintage Kemba mode for the last half of the second quarter, putting Kevin Love in the blender and then blowing by Lebron in a stretch that featured a 6-0 Kemba burst against the Cavs.

These minutes came with Dwight Howard mostly on the bench due to early foul trouble. Everything ran smoother when D12 sat last night. Zeller was able to get to the level of screens defensively to slow down the Cavs spacey attack, and the ball was moving from side to side on the offensive end when Zeller was out there.

Dwight Howard was a mess last night. D12 grew frustrated as the game grew on from his lack of touches, only taking 5 shots for the game. He turned it over 4 times tonight and battled foul trouble for the majority of the game. Cleveland ate the Hornets alive in minutes with Kevin Love as the Cavs center and D12 on the floor to chase him around the top of the arc. Steve Clifford has gone back and forth with his defensive strategy against small-ball centers – he’s continued to afford D12 the opportunity the prove he can hang with spacier bigs – the results have been predictably bad, and were again last night.

D12 and Zeller played 23 and 22 minutes, respectively, last night. Much of this due to foul trouble, but giving Cody just as many, if not more minutes than D12 will become a juicier conversation surrounding this team every day. The results are right in front of us, as we knew they would be. Zeller is a better fit at center with this team.

And just as one small example of how Zeller makes the game easier on his teammates, watch how he runs the floor in this transition sequence, forcing the defenders to tag his rim run, creating a wide open look in the corner for Marvin.

Cody Zeller is a winning basketball player. You can’t tell me otherwise. #FreeZeller

Michael Kidd-Gilchrist had his best game of the season with 22 points (10-14 FG), 6 rebounds, 2 steals and 2 blocked shots. MKG showed no hesitation with the mid-range shot and bailed out Charlotte late in the shot clock on a few separate occasions. His defense against Lebron was suspect, but who has an answer for LBJ when his shot-making was at the ridiculous level it was last night? In addition to that, the Cavs floor spacing with Love at center opens up the paint for Lebron when he chooses to bully his way to the rim. Although MKG was unable to slow down Lebron, it should still be considered an encouraging performance.

The Hornets once again held a second half lead and had plenty of opportunities to win a game. Other than the Minnesota loss, four of the past five Charlotte losses have felt the exact same way. The offense goes through stretches where the ball stops moving and the Hornets simply aren’t able to get into their sets. Clifford still has yet to come up with a counter solution to when teams elect to trap Kemba in pick-and-roll’s and the decision to light a handful of possessions on fire every game by throwing the ball to D12 in the post continues. When D12 doesn’t commit to being a screen setter, the offense is flammable.

Charlotte goes to Chicago on Friday night in what must be described as a must win game. The Hornets psyche as a team is terrible right now, and that’s obvious with the late game struggles.

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