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Week 4 Preview: Hornets look to survive back end of road trip

Charlotte will only play three games in the next nine days, but have an important two game road stretch this week at the Knicks and Boston to round-out the four game road swing.

After impressive back to back wins against Orlando and at Memphis last Sunday-Monday, the Hornets stumbled on the road in San Antonio and then what was easily their worst performance of the season Sunday night in Minnesota. Now at 5-5, Charlotte has a gut-check week with two more road games against eastern conference teams over .500.

@ Knicks, 7:30 pm ET, Tuesday, Nov. 7

After an awful start to the season, the surging Knicks look like a rejuvenated group thanks to their unicorn Kristaps Porzingis. It doesn’t stop there. Enes Kanter is giving the Knicks some offensive juice at center and their army of point-guards (Jack, Sessions, Ntilikina) are providing solid minutes. Rookie Frank Ntilikina is becoming more comfortable every game. New York has won 5 of their last 6 games and appear to be more than competent on both ends of the floor. Porzingis is carrying the team offensively, averaging 30.2 PPG, and surprisingly, the Knicks have been feisty defensively.

An important stat to keep an eye on tonight: the Knicks are gobbling up 30.5% of available offensive rebounds this season (2nd in NBA) while Charlotte is 2nd in defensive rebounding rate. New York is manufacturing a fair amount of their offense from second chances, so if the Hornets can eliminate that advantage that the Knicks are so accustomed to then you have to believe this game could become advantage Hornets.

Steve Clifford will have his hands full with trying to figure out how to contain Porzingis tonight. New York will start Porzingis and Kanter in their frontcourt, so Marvin Williams will presumably matchup with the unicorn while D12 lumbers with Kanter near the basket. Expect the Hornets to send plenty of defensive help to Porzingis throughout the game and scramble behind that.

Kemba Walker will have a big advantage tonight. Jarrett Jack will start on Kemba, with Ntilikina also getting a chance to showcase his defensive profile against the Hornets captain. Kemba is in a mini-slump, shooting 8-27 from the floor in the past two games and 1-11 from behind the arc during that stretch. A trip to MSG and a matchup with Jarrett Jack are presumably the perfect recipe to get Kemba back on track.

After a strong start on the defensive end to begin the season, Charlotte has sputtered recently. The Hornets have a 105.9 DRTG, which is best for 18th in the league. Charlotte is carrying a 106.1 ORTG, also good for 18th in the league, barely keeping their heads above water with a bench unit that has really struggled for most of the season. Tonight provides a big opportunity for the Hornets to get back on track on both ends of the floor.

@ Boston, 7:30 pm ET, Friday, Nov. 10

Certainly not a game that you’d pencil in as a win, making the game in MSG tonight all the more vital.

The Celtics are humming on both ends through 10 games. Boston is making 38.3% of their three-point attempts and have an ORTG of 107.4 (14th). They don’t overwhelm you offensively, especially when Kyrie Irving is off the floor, but they can do more than enough to get over the top when Kyrie is out there. Boston buries its opponent defensively, where the Celtics lead the league in DRTG (96.7). The switching scheme makes it very difficult to open up passing or driving lanes, so expect the Hornets to feed D12 around the basket, especially when Al Horford is on the floor at the Celtics nominal center.

To be blunt, the Celtics have been rock solid pretty much everywhere on the floor so far this season. For the Hornets to get the win in Boston, it would take a perfect effort.

Charlotte’s goal for this week should be finding a way to split these two games. After Friday’s game in Boston, the Hornets are off four straight days before hosting Cleveland next Wednesday in the first game the Hornets will wear their classic pinstripe uniforms – it’s also rumored that Nic Batum could return to action from his elbow injury that night.

ICYMI: Buzz Beat Radio, Episode 42: Recapping Milwaukee and Orlando wins, San Antonio loss.