A crucial week, and homestretch, for the Hornets season begins tonight in what should be considered a must-win against Orlando. Charlotte will welcome in the reigning champion Golden State Warriors Wednesday and then round out the four-game home-stand this weekend with the struggling Lakers and Bulls in a Friday-Saturday back-to-back.
Charlotte stands at 8-13 overall and currently three games out of the playoffs. The teams 1-10 road record is second worst in the league – only the 5-17 Hawks have been worse. 10 of the next 12 games for the Hornets will be played at home, so if this team is going to turn this season around, it must happen within the next three weeks.
This week is full of opportunity, but also features Golden State, which should be a presumed loss. A loss for the Hornets tonight against a struggling Orlando team could very well be a back-breaker to the teams spirit and chances moving forward. Let’s jump in.
vs. Orlando, Monday 7pm
This is one of those games where it appears Charlotte was gifted a win by the schedule makers. Orlando will be on the second night of a back-to-back while the Hornets come into tonight on two days rest. These kind of games go the way of the team with extended rest the vast majority of the time.
It gets better for the Hornets, though. Orlando is 2-8 in their past 10 games and have a 114.3 DRTG during that stretch – easily the worst in the NBA. By just about any defensive metric you look at, the Magic stink on that end of the floor. Orlando’s opponents are shooting 65.5% at the rim (24th) and 37.6% 3FG (18th). The Magic have a 111.5 DRTG (28th) overall to this point.
So, Orlando is not good defensively, but what’s the best way to attack them? Nic Vucevic should certainly be considered a below average defensive center – will Charlotte elect to attack him by dumping it in to D12, or by pulling Vucevic up to defend pick-and-roll’s regularly. The latter is the wiser choice, but if the sample size we have so far this season from the Hornets offense means anything, that won’t be the case. 8.4% of the Hornets offense has come out of the post-up variety this season. Opposed to 4.7% last season. When the majority of those post-up’s are going to Dwight Howard, who is scoring a putrid 0.77 PPP and committing a turnover 27.9% of the time in these play types, it’s a very ineffective strategy.
Kemba Walker will return for Charlotte tonight. He needs to have a strong performance after a rough stretch of play prior to sitting two games due to a left shoulder contusion.
Hornets have to get this win. No way around it.
vs. Golden State, Wednesday 8pm
The Hornets second national TV game comes Wednesday night at home vs. Golden State. It’s probably safe to chalk this one up as a loss, but let’s take a closer look anyways.
Golden State will be on their fourth of a five game east coast trip in Charlotte, so don’t be surprised if the Warriors limit minutes on players they typically wouldn’t. Andre Iguodala missed Sunday’s game in Miami and will likely be questionable, at best, in Charlotte on Wednesday.
The Warriors always spend as much time as possible in transition, so it begins with limiting their opportunities in the open floor. Golden State leads the league with 20% of their offense deriving from the transition play and score 1.25 PPP in those situations, so if they get out in transition, it’s a bucket.
This is not a favorable matchup for Dwight Howard. Golden State doesn’t use a ton of pick-and-rolls – only 10.6% of their possessions end with the pick-and-roll ball-handler attempting a shot, but of those possessions the Warriors score 0.96 PPP. If Steve Clifford instructs D12 to stay in “drop” position defensively against ball-screens, instructing guards to chase the Golden State shooters hip, then it’s going to be a long night. We saw this issue for the Hornets defense in Toronto last week. Dwight Howard will either have to adjust and be up closer to defend ball-screens, or Cody Zeller will simply have to play more minutes.
Currently, Golden State has the 6th best DRTG in the NBA at 103.3, so they’re showing the slightest bit of vulnerability this season. Other than forcing and then defending the mid-range shot effectively, the Warriors don’t do much at an elite level on the defensive end yet this season. 37.1% of Golden State’s opponents FGA’s come from the mid-range (7th most) and they limit their opponents to just 34.5% from that area – best in the league.
The defending champs are beatable, but it will take a perfect performance for Charlotte. The Hornets regularly struggle on national TV games against a superior opponent.
vs. Chicago, Friday 7pm – vs. Los Angeles Lakers, Saturday 7pm
No need to spend much time on either of these games. Regardless of what happens on Monday and Wednesday, the Hornets must win both against the lesser Bulls and Lakers.
You remember the loss at Chicago from a few weeks ago where the Bulls shot 17-34 (50%) from behind the arc and won 123-120. It seemed like an outlier at the time and has proven to be, as Chicago ranks 26th in the league in three-point shooting at 34.4%. This game is a great opportunity to get revenge and for Charlotte find their footing defensive, and area of real and surprising struggle so far this season.
The Lakers have been frisky on the defensive end this season, sporting a 10th best 105.0 DRTG. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope has helped them defend on the wing at an improved rate this season and that’s helping unlock some of the Brandon Ingram defensive potential. Brook Lopez has given the Lakers some girth on the inside as well. LAL continues to struggle offensively – 101.8 ORTG (28th) – aside from a splash in the pan performance from one of the youngsters – Ball, Ingram, Kuzma.
This game should represent a 3-1 week at home for Charlotte. It must.