In examining the Charlotte Hornets’ most recent stretch filled with a string of victories, James Borrego chalked up their current state to a simplistic blueprint.
There’s no need for a Pythagorean theorem or anything of that sorts.
“This isn’t a secret,” the coach said. “We’ve got to defend at a high level, compete our tails off, play for one another. Move the ball, share the ball. Find ways to close out games. Nothing more, nothing less. It’s that simple and we’ve done that the last 10 games going back to L.A. when everybody was worried about the Hornets and we just continued to stay with it. And that’s what we do. We are resilient. The formula is to continue to play hard, play together and play for one another.”
They seem to be mastering it, too.
Pairing their highest output of the season with another solid defensive effort, the Hornets kept their success going with a 133-115 win over Minnesota in front of a sellout crowd at Spectrum Center, the third time in nine games the arena has been packed to the rafters. The bulk of the 19,314 patrons left pleased following Charlotte’s fifth consecutive home victory, excited to see them extend their turnaround.
Winners in eight of their last nine games overall, the troubles that cropped up for the Hornets (13-8) during their five-game losing streak have all but vanished. Their 8-2 mark in their past 10 outings mirrors the same record of Brooklyn and Milwaukee during that span, only topped by Golden State’s 9-1 showing. The Warriors lone loss? The Hornets, of course.
“It’s amazing,” said Kelly Oubre, who led the Hornets with 27 points. “It’s a great story of us continually growing as a program and as an organization and also as a city. The city of Charlotte is behind us 100%, but we’ve got to give them something to cheer for, we’ve got to give them something to be proud of.
“So that’s when our job is most important, being out there on that court competing. Or in left field or in that rink. It don’t matter. We are putting on for our city and for our families as well. So, as long as we keep it that cohesive family unit, it will be a beautiful place to play.”
Here are three things we learned in the Hornets’ victory over the Timberwolves:
WHERE WOULD THEY BE WITHOUT OUBRE?
That Kelly Oubre free agent signing keeps looking better by the game.
Oubre’s production has been probably beyond what the Hornets could have hoped for following his struggles shooting with Golden State last season. Whether it was his starting stints at shooting guard when Terry Rozier’s sprained ankle kept him out or his offensive fireworks off the bench in more of a sixth-man role, Oubre’s value can’t be understated.
He was blowing kisses at the massive home crowd again, all courtesy of a career-high-tying seven made 3-pointers. He canned 10-of-17 attempts overall, making just over half of the 13 shots he hoisted beyond the arc.
“Well when our bench is good, we are good,” Borrego said. “We are going to win a lot of games if our bench is playing this well. And Kelly’s a big part of that. When he’s making shots, defending, using his length it just adds to the depth of our offense when he’s making shots like that. So he’s played extremely well recently, and I like the flow he’s in, I like the rhythm he’s in.
“Hopefully, he’s a little more comfortable in the system and I am a little more comfortable with him, calling his number. But a lot of his stuff tonight was just off of drive, kick, swing. Guys making the right play and he’s knocking shots down. Really there is no drop-off from our first group to our second group when guys are playing like this off the bench and, obviously, he’s a major part of that.”
UNSELFISHNESS LEADS TO RECORD NIGHT
The tone was set by LaMelo Ball extremely early.
Ball engineered the offense with effective movement, often finding teammates for relatively easy baskets. He had six of his 13 assists in the first quarter alone and his passing was infectious. The Hornets posted 18 assists through the first two quarters and finished with 32 on their 49 field goals, many setting up 3-pointers.
They sank a season-best 23 shots from 3-point range, matching their regulation record of 23 set on Oct. 23, 2019, against Chicago. Six different players drained at least one from beyond the arc.
“We were shooting threes and making them,” Oubre said. “Ball movement, us being spaced and guys being selfless enough to make the extra pass. So I think that’s what it is.”
NOT YET, NICK
With a right calf strain sidelining Mason Plumlee, leaving him on the bench in street clothes, someone had to slide into his place. Since P.J. Washington logged just six minutes two nights earlier in his first game back after missing the previous 10 thanks to a hyperextended left elbow, one might have assumed the starting nod would go to Nick Richards.
Instead, Borrego went with Washington at the outset instead of the second-year big man, and he rewarded him with 17 points and six rebounds. Washington played in bursts, getting tossed on the floor for 13 minutes in the first half and 24 minutes overall.
Washington swished two straightaway 3-pointers — which has become a staple on his offensive arsenal — and went 5 of 7 beyond the arc. But he also fired off two airballs, indicating his legs aren’t there conditioning-wise, which should be somewhat expected.
Still, even as he plays himself back into shape, the Hornets prefer to insert him at center rather than power forward because It allows them to create more mismatches.
“When PJ is at the ‘5’ we are a completely different team,” Borrego said. “Even when we weren’t making shots, you have to guard him at the 3-point line. It opens up the floor space, not only for him, but you also have to give him credit because the floor opens up a lot more when he is out there. It creates more space and we are tougher to guard.”