This was not the resounding, confidence inspiring win Hornets (12-9) fans hoped for Monday night. Yes, a road win in the NBA is always a good win but the Hornets flirted with losing to a team with the worst record in the NBA which would have been a terrible loss. In the end, Charlotte got the win they were supposed to get by beating the Mavericks (4-16) 109-101. The game in Dallas was extremely competitive. The Hornets dominated in most key statistics; FG% (51% v. 42%), Free Throws Made (26 v. 14), Rebounds (55 v. 35), Points in the Paint (54 v. 36). Yet, Charlotte missed 15 straight three-point attempts to start the game, Marco Belinelli connected on one with about 50 seconds to go in the 3rd quarter, and the Mavericks exchanged leads with the Hornets throughout the game because of these struggles. Charlotte established a comfortable lead late in the fourth, but, down the stretch, the game began to feel a lot like Saturday’s loss to the T-wolves as the Mavs went on a 6-0 run to cut the Hornets’ lead to only 3 with less than a minute remaining. However, a clutch block, by Zeller, followed by a three from the top of the key, by Jeremy Lamb, essentially sealed the win for Charlotte.
Dallas has been impacted by injuries as much as any team in the NBA. Andrew Bogut started for the Mavs tonight after not paying in last week’s game against the Hornets. Unfortunately, Bogut went down in the 1st quarter and did not return to the game. Let’s pray for a quick recovery for him as well as for Dirk, JJ Barea, Charlotte native Seth Curry, and others… For the Hornets, Marvin Williams was out of the lineup, but is expected to practice Tuesday in Charlotte and potentially play Wednesday if all goes well. This will be a big boost for the Hornets as noted below.
There is hope! The Hornets were 26-28 from the free throw line tonight. There is no doubt Clifford has emphasized the importance of improving from the charity stripe and tonight this renewed focus showed returns. For the season the Hornets are shooting 75% compared to 79% last year. This 4% difference equates to 1.1 points per game which would have been the difference between losses and wins in at least two games this year.
Kemba Walker had another solid performance scoring 19 points on 8-15 shooting. After missing 2 three-point attempts, Kemba did not attempt another the rest of the night. He did not pass up any obvious opportunities, but three-point shooting is essential to the Hornets’ success this year and Charlotte needs Kemba to search for his shot given his effectiveness from deep. Batum had a double-double with 15 rebounds and 14 points to go along with 7 assists. Strong box score stats, but Batum is not scoring efficiently. Tonight he was 0-6 from three and is shooting only 30% for the season compared to 35% last year while attempting roughly the same amount of three-point shots. The offense is still best when he’s on the floor though and his chemistry with Cody Zeller in the pick-and-roll is undeniable. The action these two create was key in the third quarter as the Hornets picked away at the Mavs’ lead. Lamb and Belinelli continued their great play off of the bench and each provided offensive boosts to the team tonight. Belinelli, and to a lesser extent Lamb, has shown great aggression on offense and it’s a joy to watch him cut around screens to fire up open shots.
We miss Marvin. Without his athleticism and on-the-floor-coaching, the Hornets continue to have issues preventing open three point shots. To a certain extent, I believe Coach Clifford has determined that the Hornets’ best chance to win without Marvin is to pack the defense inside to prevent easy points in the paint while conceding that the team will struggle to contest threes as a result. Perhaps this is the right strategy, but it gives teams like the Mavericks, against whom the Hornets are clearly the better team, a puncher’s chance to win if they shoot the three unusually well or one of their players has a career game (e.g., Harrison Barnes’s 29 points). When Marvin returns, a lineup of him, Kemba, Batum, MKG, and Zeller has the athleticism to more strategically protect the paint while staying within striking distance from potential shooters on the perimeter.
Steve Clifford said the Hornets needed to play more physically after the Pelicans game. The Hornets were the more physical team tonight as illustrated by their dominance in rebounds and points in the paint. Charlotte continues to struggle defending the three though, as noted above, and we’ll see how this changes if Marvin reenters the lineup later this week.
Wed. Dec. 7th – Charlotte vs. Detriot – 7p – Fox SportSouth
For a preview of this game listen to the QCHoops Week 7 Preview Podcast