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Reax: Hornets shutdown Orlando at home; win 104-94

The Charlotte Hornets entered Monday night’s game against the Orlando Magic at an interesting crossroads. The team, which had lost four in a row, was five games under .500, and near the middle of the pack in terms of both offensive and defensive efficiency.

Making matter more intriguing, head man Steve Clifford was unable to coach tonight due to an illness that kept him away from the facilities all day. This meant Stephen Silas would be the team’s acting head coach. (Get better, Coach Cliff!)

A key note, though: After missing two games with a left shoulder injury, Kemba Walker returned to the lineup. Hot Take Alert: This is a good thing for the Hornets.

Positives

Let’s start with the good stuff, shall we? This was far from Charlotte’s most efficient offensive performance, but the Hornets attempted a whopping 40 free throws in this game — making 33. This is just the 12th time a team this season has attempted at least 40 free throws in a game — Charlotte accounts for three of those performances.

You don’t need to be a scout to know that Orlando is a very bad defensive team (No. 21 in the NBA). Elfrid Payton and Aaron Gordon are freaky athletes; however, neither is a solid defender. No Jonathan Isaac, a guy I covered last season at FSU, means the Magic was down another rangy athlete, which in turns means minutes for Mo Speights at the 4. (Stop laughing, jerks)

At the back end of Orlando’s defense is Nik Vucevic — a stretch 5 on offense and a 0 on defense. Charlotte carved up Orlando in the pick-and-roll, thanks to Kemba, who used tempo, good screen and his wicked in-and-out dribble to get wherever he pleased. The Hornets were a game-high +13 with Kemba on the floor, too.

I’d need a little bit more time, but Frank Kaminsky had two dunks in this game, and I’m guessing that’s the first time he’s ever done that before. Weird that the Spectrum Center didn’t drop balloons from the rafters of something. Frank also had this gorgeous backdoor dime from the pinch post to a cutting Lamb — the first play to start the third quarter.

Lamb’s shooting above 53 percent on two-point field goal attempts after a pass from Kaminsky, too.

As usual, Cody Zeller was a man possessed, on both ends of the floor. You can always count on CZ and MKG to play hard as hell.

The Hornets had just 14 turnovers in this game — a turnover rate of 12.9 percent. That’s something that should please Cliff. Also, Dwight was responsible for five of those turnovers.

One last thing: this was not a great night for Nic Batum shooting the ball, and he got smoke on several closeouts. However, this was a real nice game for him passing the ball — several gorgeous loopy passes that hit cutters for buckets.

Negatives

For me, this is a no-brainer: the shooting profile. Charlotte attempted 38 midrange field goals this game, per Cleaning The Glass, making 14 (36.8 FG%). The Hornets continue to take a ton of two-point field goals from the midrange; according to Cleaning The Glass, Charlotte ranks No. 9 in the league in frequency of attempts from the midrange.

That combined with the team’s frigid outside shooting — just 3-of-17 from deep — is not exactly the combination for an efficient offensive performance. The Hornets had an effective field goal rate of 42.3 percent and scored right around one point per possession, which is emblematic of a team didn’t have its best night offensively.

Kemba Walker normally won’t shoot that poorly from the perimeter, but regardless, Charlotte needs to find ways to create more 3-point opportunities. A reminder: Marvin Williams is shooting 46 percent on catch-and-shoot 3s this season.

Also: this was not a good performance from Michael Carter-Williams, who continues to flounder when trying to create his own offense. He’s now 14-of-55 shooting from the field this season — under 26 percent.

Other than that, this was a solid two-way performance from the Hornets against an inferior opponent, albeit no a fiesta on the offensive end. The only other blip defenisvely was allowing Orlando to shoot 6-of-10 on 3-pointers in the third quarter, which let the Magic get back into the game. But honestly, go pull up the tape, several of those makes were after good half-court offense from Frank Vogel’s club.

Number to know: 91.1 points per 100 possessions

The Hornets held the Magic to just 0.911 points per possession in this game; that’s the fifth most efficient defensive performance this season for Charlotte. The Hornets are now 6-1 in games in which they’ve held their opponents to less than one point per possession.

Looking ahead

Oh, buddy. It’s homecoming for Steph Curry Wednesday night in uptown, which usually means bad things for the Hornets. In 14 career games against Charlotte, Curry has averaged 28.1 points (the second most against any opponent) on 51.2 percent shooting on three-pointers, 67.1 true shooting. Although Curry’s status may be up in the air after injuring his ankle Monday night against New Orleans.

Oh, by the way, Golden State has three other All-NBA players, and currently ranks No. 1 in the NBA in offense and net rating. Good luck, Buzz City. Gulp.

After that, Charlotte has a few days off and then two more home games over the weekend — back-to-back on Friday (Bulls) and Saturday (Lakers). Chicago and Los Angeles are terrible; if the Hornets have any hope of prolonging their playoff chances, they need wins.

– Brian Giesinger (@bgeis_bird)

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