The Hornets came into tonight’s home opener vs. the Hawks with four of their top seven players on the depth chart unavailable to play. We knew that MKG (excused absence), Nic Batum (elbow) and Michael Carter Williams (knees) wouldn’t be on the court for tonight’s game, but Cody Zeller was a late add to the list with a bone bruise to his knee.
That seemed like it could be too much for the Hornets to overcome early in the game, as the team got off to a slow start on offense. They trailed by 10 after the first quarter and looked completely out of sync. Kemba and Howard started well, but once they came out, the bench really struggled. The Hornets at one point were down by 20, and it looked bleak for the team.
When Kemba and Howard returned, they started reeling the Hawks back in with help from Frank Kaminsky. Frank scored 15 points in the quarter hitting shots inside and out. By the break, the Hornets cut the deficit down to 7 points, and had started to give the hometown crowd something to cheer about.
When the third quarter started, the Hornets came out with far more intensity on the defensive end, and started moving the ball on the offensive end. They blitzed the Hawks on both ends and outscored them 35-17 in the third quarter. There was a different attitude and swagger from the Hornets in the quarter. On defense, they were having fun and getting physical with the young Hawks — Atlanta missed their final 11 shots of the the third quarter.
The bench kept the lead while the starters rested early in the fourth. The starters pulled away to close the game, winning 109-91 to notch the first win of the year.
This team has long relied on Kemba Walker to lead them, and tonight he was nothing short of spectacular. He scored 26 points, on only 13 shots, and added 9 assists. He hit 4 of 8 threes and had a few plays that will be on ESPN.
Frank was another big positive tonight, coming off the bench and contributing 21 points. He scored inside and out, and looked far more confident than we have seen him recently.
Last, but definitely not least, we have to talk about the big man in the middle, Dwight Howard. We can talk about his scoring (20 points) and his rebounding (15) but that doesn’t tell the whole story. Howard has brought something to this team that can’t be measured by stats. He brings an excitement and intensity that I don’t remember seeing in Buzz City before. He had four monstrous dunks that, not only got the crowd out of their seats, it caused Marvin Williams to dance on the sidelines. He and Kemba were both firing up the crowd after plays. It’s early, and I have heard all the warnings, but I can’t help but ask myself: What if Dwight and Kemba find some magic?
We have to start this conversation with turnovers. The Hornets pride themselves on taking care of the ball, but 15 first half turnovers would have been a death sentence against a better team. They look unorganized at times, especially the bench unit. Howard will always have his share of turnovers, but most of them are dead-ball turnovers via offensive 3 second calls or offensive fouls. The Hornets must limit their live ball turnovers, especially above the three-point line, as these usually lead to easy fast break points for the opponent.
I’m not going to be overly critical of anyone 2 games in, but let’s just say Marvin needs to find his stroke from the field and Malik Monk needs to take better care of the ball and stay within himself on both ends of the court.
Numbers to Know
Kemba is one made field goal away from tying Larry Johnson for second in Hornets’ history in field goals made in a career.
BG number of the night Hornets used a lineup in the second half —
Kemba, Dwight, Frank, TG and Lamb — that blitzed Atlanta. In 10 minutes (Charlotte’s second most used lined last night), this group scored 1.33 points per possession, and posted a net rating of +54.3 points per 100 possessions. Follow Brian Geisinger @bgeis_bird on twitter for more great numbers!
The Hornets travel to face the Milwaukee Bucks on Monday in an early season battle with a team that will be in the Eastern Conference Playoff picture this season. Game tips at 7:30. Until then Buzz City, stay positive!