National vibes in Charlotte: What to take away from the Hornets’ win over the Lakers

·6 min read
Jeff Siner/jsiner@charlotteobserver.com

They claimed it was no different.

Sure there was an extra table at midcourt for the likes of Hubie Brown and the rest of the ESPN crew, and the game time had been altered to a later start to accommodate the national television audience. And purple and gold jerseys were prevalent throughout Spectrum Center, an indicator that this was not the same atmosphere, even if the Charlotte Hornets tried to convince themselves otherwise.

“The hope for this young group is that this just becomes normal,” coach James Borrego said before tipoff. “It’s just another game for us in that regard, but I’m excited for this organization. It’s taken a minute to get here. This is not easy and to be one of these teams that people want to watch now throughout our league, it’s exciting for our organization but more for our players.”

They didn’t make it overly easy on themselves despite Los Angeles missing LeBron James, Anthony Davis and even ex-Hornet Malik Monk. But the Hornets had enough in them to knock off the Lakers 117-114 in front of a sellout crowd of 19,469 on Friday night.

“It’s a Lakers game in Charlotte,” Miles Bridges said. “Everybody loves the Lakers, so any time you play the Lakers it’s going to be a different type of game, a different type of atmosphere. At the end of the day, we try to play it like a regular game. But Russell Westbrook did a great job for them. Carmelo (Anthony) did a great job for them, keeping them in the game and that’s why it was so close.”

Here are some key takeaways from the Hornets’ fifth win in the past seven games.

MILES STILL MONEY

The string of solid outings continued for Miles Bridges.

By netting 26 points to go with eight rebounds and six assists, Bridges has posted at least 20 points in seven of his last eight games. He’s in a zone offensively, immersed in a stretch during which he’s also scored a career-best 38 points, and is about as confident as he’s been in his three-plus seasons.

“I am starting to get used to these 20-point games,” Borrego said. “I didn’t realize he scored 26 tonight until I just looked at the stat sheet. Played 41 minutes and played extremely hard as well. Big plays, big possessions, big shots and he is getting everyone’s best shot out there right now. Teams are really well built and he is getting the best defenders every night. Some nights it is his playmaking, his scoring, defense. And he is maturing right before our eyes.”

Beyond his highlight windmill dunks and alley-oops with LaMelo Ball, Bridges is making excellent decisions on the floor and isn’t forcing much. At times when he has a semi open 3-pointer, he tries to find a higher percentage shot and either drives to the basket or looks to get a teammate involved.

“I’m comfortable,” he said. “I’m comfortable. My teammates, they like when I have the ball in my hands. Coach likes when I have the ball in my hands. So, just trying to get everybody involved. Melo, he does a great job of getting everybody the ball. I try to do the same thing of passing the ball because sometimes I can get too aggressive and not pass. So, I’m just trying to get better at that.”

ISH SMITH STEPS UP

A much thinner bench than usual for the Hornets (28-22) meant there were extra minutes to spread out. Ish Smith was a beneficiary and the veteran point guard really made the most of his court time, tossing in a season-best 22 points in 26 minutes. He recorded his first 20-point effort since 2020.

Smith was a big spark off the bench and helped spur the Hornets, particularly in the second quarter when the Lakers trimmed a double-digit deficit down and closed within two points. He sank all five shots and posted 10 points and three nifty assists, effectively running the backup point guard duties while LaMelo Ball was resting. Borrego typically likes to use Terry Rozier in that role, but he went to Smith instead and was rewarded.

Smith showed he can elevate, too, blocking Avery Bradley’s jumper to start a fast break punctuated when he tossed a good feed to PJ Washington, who made the bucket despite getting fouled in the act.

“Just being prepared, being ready,” Smith said. “Hopefully, I’m an example for the young guys. Now, I need to be more consistent in my play. I really do. I’m my biggest critic and some games I need to be a little more consistent in my play. But for the most part Coach called on me, I was prepared.

“But it’s a team sport, it’s a team game and it wasn’t just myself. We all played a part to get that win.”

NEARLY DEJA VU

It wasn’t Game 6 in the first round of the 2016 playoffs and neither the Miami Heat nor Dwyane Wade were around. But there was a similar feel to how things unfolded in the second half when one fan sitting courtside apparently got the Lakers all riled up.

Play was briefly interrupted in the third quarter when security stepped in because Lakers center DeAndre Jordan and the fan, who was seated next to Charlotte native and rapper Da Baby, chirped at each other. Then, in what likely drew nightmarish flashbacks to the purple shirt guy for some, the Lakers cut a double-digit deficit down to two points. Carmelo Anthony said something to the fan after sinking a 3-pointer and Jordan was barking viciously at him during a timeout.

“Yeah, it kind of got them going,” Bridges said. “It got Russell going, got Carmelo going. But that’s just fans. Fans, sometimes they say something to you that you don’t like and you retaliate. But yeah, it was nothing.”

KELLY CAN’T GO

There was no encore for Kelly Oubre some 48 hours after his record-setting performance.

Oubre, who poured in 39 points and drained 10 3-pointers in the Hornets’ win in Indianapolis on Wednesday, didn’t play against the Lakers due to a sprained left ankle. Oubre was listed as questionable leading up to about 90 prior to tipoff and ultimately the Hornets elected to hold him out. He spent the night watching in street clothes from the bench, missing his fifth game of the season. The other four absences came when he was sidelined due to health and safety protocols.

Borrego said Oubre’s ankle didn’t feel all that good when he woke up Thursday.

“There was a roll up, I believe, by Lance Stephenson on the ankle,” Borrego said, “that I think when you are making 10 threes you just forget about it. When you are making shots you forget about it and then maybe the next morning you feel it a little bit more. But he’s ready to go. He’ll be ready for Sunday. I’m optimistic.”

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