The Hornets face off against the Houston Rockets Saturday evening for the second time this season. They two teams matched up back on February 5th where the Rockets ran away with a 125-110 victory. Tonight Charlotte will look to avenge their previous loss along with continuing the competitive fire they’ve brought over the past week. 

Saturday is the Hornets’ fifth game in the past eight days. The Hornets have a grueling March schedule, four games coming against current playoff teams during this span. Charlotte’s previous four games have been decided by 10 or fewer points including one and two-point losses, and a victory over the Raptors. Hornets’ head coach James Borrego sees tonight as another opportunity to test his team’s talent against another contender. 

“Houston is another really good team,” Borrego said pre-game. “Another high-level elite team is coming in here. I’m proud of our guys, we’ve been fearless, we’ve been aggressive. Starting with Toronto, Milwaukee, San Antonio, Denver. Our guys have played extremely aggressive and have played competitively. I’m excited to watch them again tonight.”

Approach to Houston’s small-ball 

The Houston Rockets have recently fully embraced their analytically-driven, small-ball style of play. The team traded the only center in their regular rotation, Clint Capela, in a multi-team trade for Robert Covington. The team also signed veterans Jeff Green and DeMarre Carroll to contribute to their intended style of play.

The Rockets’ unique approach and interchangeable lineups pose problems against their opponents. Teams either have to try and overpower them with size or match Houston’s small-ball – where Houston has more experience and can hurt you in multiple ways. There’s almost no way to play Houston without in some way playing on their terms. James Borrego is going to stick to the Hornets’ strengths first and then make the necessary adjustments on the fly if needed.

“We’ll be who we are first, do what we do, run our rotations,” Borrego said. “If we have to adjust, we’ll adjust. We adjust every game. I’m sure we’ll have to adjust at some point.

“The Rockets are physical, they get into the ball, they switch a ton, they stay in front of the ball, and they’re not in rotations a whole lot. They just battle you. We just have to move them side to side. And their switching defense gives you problems. It’s nothing we haven’t faced recently we just have to go out there and play with great pace.”

In the Hornets’ previous matchup against Houston, they only played their centers 30 total minutes. Cody Zeller played 13 minutes, along with 17 from Willy Hernangomez. Expect a regular rotation tonight unless JB’s hand is forced to go small. P.J. Washington has often been featured as a small-ball center so they can match the Rockets’ length with switchable lineups including the Martin twins, Miles Bridges at power forward, and Jalen McDaniels.

Hornets’ approach to James Harden

James Harden poured 40 points on the Hornets in their previous matchup and tonight the Hornets will attempt to limit the NBA’s leading scorer once again. James Borrego sees rookie Cody Martin as a viable option on the former MVP. 

“I thought [Cody Martin] did a good job on Harden,” Borrego said pre-game. “You have to be smart against James. You can’t force him to the free-throw line 15-20 times a game. Don’t add to the fire by fouling him and sending him to the free-throw line. And I thought Cody did a good job of that and tonight he’ll get a good shot at him again.”

Another problem when facing James Harden is his ability to draw fouls at an extraordinarily high rate. There’s no one in the league better at getting to the charity stripe than Harden. James Borrego has a few keys his players can use to limit their fouls, specifically always showing your hands.

“[James Harden] has been doing this for years,” Borrego explained when asked how to limit his players from fouling.  “We had to come up with a scheme many years ago to try and not foul him and we’ve done a good job of that over the years. You have to be smart, you have to show your hands. In general, when you show your hands, officials tend to give you the benefit of the doubt. If they can’t see their hands, it’s 50/50. If you’re not showing your hands, Harden is going to find a way to wrap them, grab them, do whatever he does – and he’s one of the best at it – to engage it. 

“You have to do your work ahead of time. If you’re trying to get out before your hands are out of the cookie jar, it’s too late. Keep your hands out of the cookie jar. But you can stay aggressive with your chest, your legs, your hips, your body, your shoulders, just not your hands. Harden will challenge us tonight on that. The Martin brothers have been savvy enough so far to not do that and a few other of our guys tonight will have a good challenge as well.”