The Charlotte Hornets traveled to Los Angeles, California on Saturday to begin a four-game California road trip. The Hornets played a two-game stand against the Lakers and Clippers on back-to-back nights at the Staples Center, dropping both games. Tonight, the young Hornets look to make a statement win and bounce back against the Sacramento Kings.

For tonight’s game, the Hornets will be without Nicolas Batum as he is still recovering from a fracture in his left ring finger. Sacramento has listed Marvin Bagley III as out with a fractured right thumb and Harry Giles III as questionable with left knee soreness.

Both the Hornets and Kings have started off the year on the wrong foot. Charlotte is sitting at 1-3 while having dropped their last three contests. Sacramento has yet to win a game as they currently sit at 0-4. Both squads are young teams that play with high energy and intensity. Be fully prepared to watch a fast-paced shoot out tonight at the Golden 1 Center. 

The Hornets’ 2nd half struggles

The Hornets have let their last three contests slip away in the second half after having consistent first half leads. There have been a number of reasons as to why they have collapsed in their last three games, both offensively and defensively. Small sample size but continued trends is a cause for concern and hopefully they can turn it around tonight. Averaging under 0.9 points per possession is a hard number to swallow. If they can’t get out and run they struggle creating efficient offense in the half court but it starts with their defense.

The Hornets’ defense performance has a direct impact on their pace. The Hornets play their best at a high pace but they can’t get out and run without defensive stops. James Borrego and multiple Hornets talked about this after the Minnesota loss last Friday. They all shared similar thoughts saying when you have to take the ball out of the basket, you cannot get out and run in transition. The Hornets’ pace during the first half of games this season ranks 11th at 106.5. In contrast, Charlotte’s pace ranks 24th in the second half at 100. The team needs to do a better job at communicating on defense, not allowing second chance points, and most importantly, protecting the paint.

Charlotte let the Timberwolves start 13/16 from the field last Friday night. This resulted in the Hornets playing at a very slow pace where they only shot 45 percent on the quarter with only nine field goals. Most of those points came in the paint where the team has struggled mightily this year. Luckily Sacramento ranks last in the NBA in points in the paint at just 36.0 per game. If Charlotte can protect the rim and secure rebounds on the first go around, they can go and run and run up the scoreboard.

When the Hornets get in the half court, they struggle and cough up a large volume of turnovers. In this sector of the game their shot selection is also far from acceptable. The Hornets’ defensive rating is an abysmal 122.0 during the second half of their first four games this year compared to 109.4 in the first half. 122.0 ranks 28th in the NBA. Their best offense is their defense and when they struggle defensievly, it has a direct correlation on their offensive output.

Overall, the Hornets have a -23.5 NET Rating in the second half, which ranks 28th in the NBA. The team lacks the energy and comeptitivenes they have shown in the first half during the game’s last two quarters. The Hornets’ offense gets stagnant, ball movement slows down, and players start forcing low-percentage contested shots. This is a recipe for disaster and is the last thing Borrego wants. The team’s 93.5 Offensive Rating (ranked 27th) reinforces their lack of productivity on that end of the floor. Their Offensive Rating in the first half ranks 7th in the NBA at 110.3. 

Enough with all of these stats. The bottom line is if the Hornets can get stops on defense, Terry Rozier, Devonte’ Graham, Miles Bridges, or whoever is handling the ball can push the pace in transition. This creates good offense and is this team’s bread and butter. The Hornets do have to improve in the half court but that will take longer as these players are still getting situated in new, elevated roles. 

Sacramento’s rocky start

The Kings have lost all four of their games to begin the 2019-20 season, losing by an average differential of 19.5 points. The Kings made quite the splash this offseason after being a nine seed in the west last year. The team re-signed Harrison Barnes and brought in Trevor Ariza, Cory Joeseph, Richaun Holmes and Dwayne Dedmon. After an active free agency, many thought the Kings could potentially push for a lower end playoff seed. The current projectory they are on is not making it look like they will trend in that direction. They have the pieces to win 40 plus games this year, they just need to put it together. 

The Kings two centerpieces, De’Aaron Fox and Buddy Hield, have both struggled mightily through the first four games. It is a small sample size and history predicts that they won’t stay in this slump forever. Both Fox (39.2 percent) and Hield (35.1 percent) are both shooting below 40 percent from the field this season. They also are leading the team in points and field goal attempts. That is not a recipe for success and both look to bounce back tonight at home against Charlotte.