CHARLOTTE, N.C. – After a tough loss to Boston on Thursday, Charlotte was in prime position to rebuild their confidence Saturday night as they faced off against the Pelicans. New Orleans entered Saturday with a 1-7 record, surrendering the most points per game in the NBA at 124.0, ranking dead last in defense. Following a poor offensive display against the Celtics, the Hornets had a great opportunity to pour in some points on this Pelicans team. They were hoping to build their confidence prior to taking on arguably the best defensive team in the NBA Sunday night: the Philadelphia 76ers. Unfortunately, none of that happened on Saturday night in Charlotte. 

This young Hornets squad is not loaded with the necessary talent to win 40 plus games. Caesar’s projected the Hornets to win 24 games this season and all signs point to them exceeding that prediction. But, this team needs to take advantage of every opportunity to win games against inferior teams because odds are, most nights the Hornets will be out-talented by their opposition. Saturday was a prime example of a matchup that favored the Hornets. The Pelicans had glaring weaknesses defensively that played to the Hornets’ advantage. The Hornets win that game a majority of the time unless they lose the game on their own accord. That is what happened Saturday night. The Pelicans did not win this game, the Hornets lost it. 

Charlotte was in control for the majority of the game Saturday night. The team played at a level that was fully capable of pulling out a win, they just could not finish down the stretch. Despite 20 turnovers through three quarters, Charlotte kept it together, entering the 4th with a five point lead. 

Devonte’ Graham was having himself another stellar night through three quarters, scoring 18 points and dishing out 9 assists, including a step-back buzz-beating three-pointer to end the period. All signs were pointing towards a Hornets win if they continued on with their current play. They led 86-81 entering the game’s final 12 minutes. 

The final six minutes that cost the Hornets the game

Midway through the 4th quarter the game turned for the worst. The Hornets self-destructed allowing the Pelicans to go on a run and they never looked back. New Orleans took over the game, running away with a 115-110 victory. 

James Borrego was visibly frustrated during his postgame press conference, knowing his team missed a tremendous opportunity to grab a win. “We had our opportunities to win this game and we didn’t take advantage of it,” Hornets head coach James Borrego said postgame. “It’s a disappointing effort in the second half that we did not get this game done.”

The Hornets were leading 95-93 with 6:04 left in the 4th he Pelicans went on a 13-2 run, leading 106-97. The Hornets could not manage to produce a late-game comeback effort and fell short. Broken rotations on the defensive end led to open threes for New Orleans. Offensively they just missed shots. There wasn’t a lack of ball movement or poor shot selection. Charlotte got high-quality looks, the shots just weren’t falling. 

“We had some good looks and didn’t knock them down. I give them credit. They made theirs. We missed ours,”  Borrego said after the loss. 

The Hornets started the 4th quarter going 4-15 from the field including 0-6 from three. At the game’s conclusion they finished 8-25 for the period. Three of their 8 made field goals came in the final minute during desperation time. Not an ideal finish to a game. Again, the looks the Hornets got were high quality. They just need to be better at closing games as P.J. Washington spoke about postgame. “They were making shots, being aggressive and getting to the free throw line. And we crumbled on the defensive end. We got to do better at closing out games, so that’s one thing we have to do better at going forward.”

The Hornets’ defense lacked urgency and proper rotations

Equally responsible for the 4th quarter collapse was the defense for the Hornets. The Pelicans caught the Hornets out of formation where they failed to rotate correctly resulting in wide open three-pointers for J.J. Redick (22 points), Brandon Ingram (25 points), and Kenrich Williams (15 points) during the final stretch of the game. 

Devonte’ Graham spoke on the Pelicans’ shot making in the 4th and added that if the Hornets rebounded the ball a bit better that the outcome could have been different. “They did a good job at making shots. B.I and J.J. hit some tough shots,” Graham said, “defensively we just got to do a better job at rebounding. Limiting them to one shot and maybe the outcome would have been a little different.” On a single possession during the Pelicans’ 13-2 run, they grabbed four offense rebounds off of their missed shots. That is likely the prime example Graham was alluding to. 

Rotations have been an issue in the past for this young team but it makes it ever more so important when your offense is on a cold run. “We fix it through multiple efforts,” Borrego said. “It just takes attention to detail, physicality and urgency to get to the ball…” It was obvious that the Hornets lacked the pep in their step in the 4th, allowing New Orleans to take their time getting off wide open shots from deep. 

Devonte’ agreed with Borrego’s statement that the team lacked urgency on the defensive end to close out the game. “It’s just about that extra effort… It starts with keeping the ball in front of you, making sure you keep your man out of the lane so that way you don’t have to rotate but when they do we got to be there on the rotations.”

Turnovers: an issue but not in the 4th quarter

Coming into Saturday’s game, it was obvious that both team’s were going to want to play fast. That has been the Hornets’ bread and butter this season. In like manner, the Pelicans also play a high-pace brand of basketball. The two similar styles of basketball resulted in a reverse effect on the game. There was such a high frequency of turnovers along with plenty of fouls called that both teams struggled to get out and play at a fast pace. 

Through three quarters the Hornets (20) and the Pelicans (22) combined for 44 turnovers, including 14 in the first half for the Hornets to the displeasurement of James Borrego. “There were too many (turnovers). 14 turnovers in a half is just too many. It’s sloppy execution, it’s not taking pride in making the right play or the right pass.”

It’s important to realize how turnovers negatively impact the Hornets’ intended pace and continuity on offense form possession-to-possession. “It throws you out of rhythm,” Devonte’ Graham explained postgame. “We talk about it all the time you got to limit the turnovers, we did a good job with that in the last couple of games but tonight we were a little lazy with the ball.”

You want to play at a similar pace for as long as you can, in order to get your team into flow. In the Hornets case, you want to play fast. So things like turnovers and fouls hurt the cause. You have to slow down, stop the clock and shoot free throws, in bound the ball or turn around and get back on defense and that “disrupts the flow,” as P.J. Washington said postgame. This team finds itself forcing turnovers in the half-court due to guys being in the wrong spots and as a result of poor communication. The communication issue is just a byproduct of the team being new with each other and their roles. It will get better in time. You have to slow down, stop the clock and shoot free throws, in bound the ball or turn around and get back on defense. 

Charlotte looks to bounce back tomorrow against Philadelphia

The Hornets have a quick turnaround as they face the 76ers tomorrow night at The Wells Fargo Center in South Philly. The Sixers have one of the most tantalizing and elite defenses in the NBA. Despite an off night against a far less talented team in New Orleans, Charlotte will look to learn from this game and bounce back tomorrow against a tough opponent.  

Devonte’ Graham is ready to put this game behind, as he is fully aware of the significance of the game Sunday night. “That’s the good thing about the NBA, you get to put (the loss) right behind you, refocus and get ready for tomorrow.”

Devonte’ Graham had a stellar game despite the loss. He totaled 24 points (team-high) and 10 assists on the night. Graham’s 20-10 game is the first in the NBA season for a player coming off of the bench. Graham’s backcourt partner for much of this game, Terry Rozier also played a solid game, scoring 18 points and adding 6 assists and 5 rebounds for the night. The backcourt tandum of Rozier and Graham continued to play well alongside each other for most of this game, disregarding the last stretch of missed open looks. The two will look to continue their play tomorrow against a Ben Simmons-less Sixers’ backcourt as Ben is still nursing a shoulder injury. 

Lack of energy and urgency was one sentiment Borrego echoed postgame following the loss Saturday. Against a Sixers’ team with loads of talent and championship aspirations, the Hornets will need to bring every bit of focus, energy, and urgency on both ends tomorrow. 

“We have to learn from this one and see what kind of urgency we have tomorrow night and see who brings it,” James Borrego expressed Saturday night. “That’s a very good team we’re going to play tomorrow night. We’ll see who bounces back from tonight. We have to collectively bounce back together and bring some great energy tomorrow.”