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Reax: Hornets get back-to-back statement wins

Thanks to a dominant second half, Charlotte rallied from a 13-point deficit in Memphis last night to take down the Grizzlies 104-99. Make it back-to-back nights where Hornets take down the number-one team in the Eastern (Orlando) and Western (Memphis) Conference, respectively.

Let’s dig in to both of the back-to-back wins for Charlotte.


vs. Orlando

Kemba Walker carried the Hornets down the stretch in his most efficient game of the season. The Captain scored 34 points on 15-25 shooting and dished out 10 assists. Orlando has no answer defensively for Kemba, who scored 21 of his 34 points in the second half and was 9-13 from the floor during that stretch.

After leading by as many as 16, the Hornets squandered the lead and allowed Orlando to get as close as 3 in the second half. Jonathan Simmons was the star in the sky for the Magic. Simmons finished with a career high 27 points (9-15 FG, 4-6 3FG) and consistently hit tough shots to keep Orlando close in this game. Evan Fournier, who’s having a career season to start ’17-’18, pitched in 23 points (8-15 FG) and 5 assists. With Elfrid Payton out due to injury, former Charlotte Bobcat D.J. Augustin garnered most of the point-guard minutes for Orlando and he finished 0-7 from the floor, posting a -17 +/- in 23 minutes of play. Ouch.

Dwight Howard showed out with yet another strong performance. 22 points (9-13 FG), 10 rebounds and plenty of highlight dunks. The Kemba-D12 pairing is still seeking consistency on the offensive end, but it’s also becoming more and more fun intriguing every night. It was clear that the duo had fun on the floor together Sunday night and D12 even noted that fact in his post-game comments.

Positives

Frank was out in this game due to “illness”, but Cody Zeller was back from the bone bruise in his right knee, and you saw the effects of having him out there almost immediately. Shades of early offense from the past two season when Zeller sprints the floor, immediately sets a ball-screen for Kemba, and the Captain toys with the pick-and-roll defense. Look at all that space.

That space isn’t present as often when D12 occupies the floor, but with Zeller coming off the bench, it’s a different look Charlotte can throw at defenses and effectively force their hand at preparing for two very different styles offensively.

When your starting unit doesn’t create a ton of space on the floor, use the gravitational pull of D12 and move the ball quickly like it’s hot.

Ceremonial starters MKG and Marvin Williams combined to shoot 10-12 from the floor, grab 15 rebounds and committed zero turnovers. Picture perfect. When Charlotte gets that kind of efficiency from those two, they won’t lose often.

The defense was excellent in this game. Consistent effort and attention to detail is what it takes to be an elite defense in this league and the Hornets haven’t skipped a beat so far this season. Always tagging the roll man, helping the helper on a string and closing out to shooters like their life depends on it has all been extremely fun to watch and exemplifies the spirit of Steve Clifford.

Charlotte also showed a defensive switching scheme against Orlando that we hadn’t seen yet this season. It takes pressure off the guards to negotiate fighting over the swath of ball-screens while D12 drops and also allows the big man to prove he can stay with quicker guards on the perimeter. The obvious negative is that it can create mismatches defensively, especially for Kemba. But watch this high level stuff from MKG coming all the way from the weakside corner to switch the switch, sending Kemba away and saving him from being buried in the post by Vucevic. Impressive.

Negatives

The only thing of note here is the turnovers. As a team, Charlotte only had 16 in this game, but D12 owned 5 of them. I know he’s been great so far this season and is a huge reason for the Hornets early success, but those 3.9 TOV per game matter. That number has got to drop.


@ Memphis

Charlotte got the early season statement win they were looking for by completing the comeback in the “Grindhouse” last night and taking down the darlings of the west in the Grizzlies. The 104-99 win was extremely hard fought and this was undoubtedly the best defensive performance of the season for the Hornets.

Kemba Walker and Jeremy Lamb spearheaded Charlotte’s offense with 27 (7-15 FG) and 17 points (6-13 FG), respectively. Kemba was a wizard with the ball as always, but especially in the 4th quarter as he weaved in and out of the Memphis defense, wearing down the Grizzlies and earning five trips to the charity stripe in the final frame to help secure the win. Lamb continued his hero ball scoring efficiency that doesn’t look pretty when it’s happening and causes most fans to hold their breath until you watch the ball go through the hoop. J-Lamb is now 9-14 (64%) from deep in the past four games and is becoming much more disciplined at only taking a triple when it’s a catch-and-shoot opportunity.

Dwight Howard was not much of a factor for the Hornets tonight outside of 3 vital defensive rebounds he grabbed to help seal the game late in the 4th. D12 finished with just 2 points on 1-9 shooting and 7 rebounds. Memphis made it a point to take away anything for D12 at the rim out of the pick-and-roll and Marc Gasol fronted him in the post every opportunity he got.

MKG and Marvin Williams both had very strong showings for the second straight game, combining to shoot 8-11 for 19 points and hauling in 14 rebounds. Both were impact players on the defensive end as well – especially MKG, who locked down and limited Mike Conley all night. MKG and Marvin are both great examples of players who will do whatever it takes to win – zero ego to feed for either of these guys and just do so many of the little things that don’t show up in a box score.

Positives

Mike Conley and Marc Gasol struggled all night, combining to shoot 8-33 (24%). MKG hounded Conley all night, making his life very difficult. It was clear that late in the game Conley was gassed – on a vital defensive possession with the Grizzlies trailing 96-95 Conley seemed to give up on the possession, wrapping up Kemba to foul and send him to the line with Charlotte in the bonus – very heavy legs by the end of this one for Conley. Gasol found life very tough at the rim and couldn’t get it going from behind the arc, where he finished 2-8 (25%). Gasol missed some wide open triples, but for the most part, the struggle was due to the Hornets defensive energy and closing down most opportunities near the basket for Memphis in the half-court.

Amazingly, the Grizzlies only managed to shoot 15-38 (39.5%) at the rim. That’s as good as if gets at protecting the hoop in the NBA.

Neither team was an offensive juggernaut, but the Hornets came to life in the second half when it mattered. Malik Monk led Charlotte in the second half with 10 points (4-7 FG, 2-4 3FG) and immensely benefited from playing with Kemba. When Monk has had to play the role as nominal point-guard with the second unit this season he’s struggled, but once he’s able to slide back to his natural position of shooting-guard and get off the ball, there’s an instant difference.

You thought I was going to forget to mention the play of Cody Zeller? No way! He was the player of the game for Charlotte in my mind. In Zeller’s 18 minutes, he scored 11 points (4-7 FG), grabbed 8 rebounds and blocked 3 shots. It was a classic Cody Zeller game – was literally everywhere on the floor, making the hustle plays that keep possessions alive for his team and cut them short for the opposition. The highlight below epitomizes Cody as a player – out hustles everyone to keep ball alive for offensive rebound and then immediately sprints to set a ball-screen that frees up Monk for the jumper. Dude is simply a winning basketball player.

The Buzz Beat Radio crew hosted a post-game #BuzzCast on Periscope last night to recap the win in Memphis – check it out HERE.

Looking Ahead

The Hornets will return home Wednesday night to take on Giannis Antetokounmpo and the surging Milwaukee Bucks at 7:00pm. It will be the second meeting between Charlotte and Milwaukee this season, with the Bucks winning the first game last week 103-94 in Milwaukee.

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