The Spectrum Center was more than emphatic on opening night Wednesday at the start of a new dawn. Many expected the arena in Uptown Charlotte to be somber and empty with the loss of the team’s franchise player, Kemba Walker, but the style of play and energy this young Hornets team exhibited was a thrilling sight to see.
The Hornets won in an exhilarating shootout, 126-125, in a game with superb performances from Devonte’ Graham and P.J. Washington. Graham, Washington, and Dwayne Bacon combined for 72 points in the win, and veteran Marvin Williams was a spark off the bench providing 17 points.
Ball movement was a common theme in Wednesday night’s game, and they will look to build on that success tonight at home. They face another young, energetic team in Minnesota that will also look to match the Hornets’ high pace.
On Wednesday the team recorded 77 points off assists – compared to 59 points off assists last season. The Hornets also assisted on 20 of their 23 made three-pointers which were a franchise record and NBA record for opening night. An improvement in pace Wednesday night was a crucial part of the change James Borrego wanted the team to make. He has explained that he does not want the ball sticking in one players’ hands but instead whipping it around at a high rate. Against Chicago, the team recorded 327 passes, compared to 290.1 passes per game last year.
Tonight the Hornets face a few challenges including how the team will respond to the absences of Cody Zeller and Nicolas Batum, directly resulting in attempting to neutralize Minnesota’s talented young star in Karl Anthony-Towns. P.J. Washington will need to step up again tonight in the wake of Zeller’s absence and will look to continue his hot shooting streak.
Nicolas Batum and Cody Zeller out tonight
During the second half on Wednesday night’s win over the Bulls, Nicolas Batum left the game with a hand injury which the team announced yesterday was a fractured middle finger on his left hand. The Frenchman will be reevaluated in two to three weeks.
In the absence of Batum, there is speculation as to who is to eat up the available minutes. Borrego said at practice yesterday that he will run lineups more guard heavy lineups which will increase the number of minutes of a collective set of players including Malik Monk and Devonte’ Graham. Intend on seeing lineups featuring multiple guards on the floor at once, specifically, Graham, Rozier, and Monk as Borrego threw out on opening night for five minutes as well as throughout the preseason a few times. Borrego said to expect lineups with Graham at the point and Rozier at the two spot.
It is a real possibility that rookies Caleb and or Cody Martin sees some action tonight as Batum’s open minutes are up for grabs. Borrego said yesterday at practice that they will use those two along with playing more guard heavy lineups to cover some of Batum’s minutes. Borrego loves the energy Caleb plays brings to the game and it fits in perfectly with the pace and style of play Borrego is building with this group.
Neutralizing Karl Anthony-Towns
The Charlotte Hornets have their hands full tonight as they take on one of the NBA’s most talented big men in Minnesota’s Karl Anthony-Towns. Unless the Hornets have another three-point shooting showcase as they had Wednesday, if they don’t deter KAT from dominating the game as his did in Minnesota’s first game, then the Hornets are in a heap of trouble.
Karl Anthony-Towns put on a show in Brooklyn Wednesday night en route to the team’s 127-126 overtime win where the Kentucky big man poured on 36 points and 14 rebounds while knocking down 7-11 three-pointers. Hornets rookie P.J. Washington had the same stat line from three and will likely be in charge of defending the T-Wolves big.
James Borrego ran Cody Zeller and P.J. Washington at center for the entirety of the Bulls game except for a span of a few minutes with Marvin Williams at the five. Tonight expect Marvin Williams to be inserted into the starting lineup and alongside Washington as they will look to shut down Towns.
Minnesota’s new offensive system is designed to utilize Karl more as he has been featured with the ball in his hands around the perimeter and at the top of the key so they can tap into his shooting – which Minnesota much desperately needs – and ability to drive score off the dribble and make plays for others. That was on full display Wednesday as he lit up the Nets defense. A Wiggins-Towns two-man game with Wiggins attacking the rim primarily off those sets was also another constant in the game.
The Hornets surrendured 78 points in the paint against Chicago and without their starting center in the lineup tonight that will look to be an even bigger issue. Lauri Markkanen scored 35 against Charlotte, dominating in the paint, and Markkanen is a much less skilled player and scorer than Towns so the Hornets will have their hands full in looking to stop the Timberwloves’ star tonight. Borrego will likely throw several different looks at Towns including double teams his way, shading his way off ball, among other strategies to try to dismantle him.
Hornets’ rookie P.J. Washington is coming off a dream-like NBA debut and will look to continue his shooting success tonight against Minnesota where he will have his hands full attempting to slow down Karl Anthony-Towns.