James Borrego had a few things in particular he wanted to see on Wednesday night.
Following a rough overtime loss to Boston on Monday and leading into their first Southeast Division game of the season, the Charlotte Hornets coach couldn’t stomach another substandard effort in his favorite aspect of the game.
“We’ve got to execute better down the stretch,” Borrego said. “To me the issue was the defensive end. We’ve got to be better defensively for 48 minutes. We didn’t bring our best defensively. Tonight, I expect our best defensively. Great effort, one-on-one pride. We got beat off the bounce too much. Weak side was not as involved as much as I’d like it to be.
“For us it starts on the defensive end.”
The edict was heeded.
The Hornets forced seven turnovers in the final quarter alone and suffocated Orlando 120-111 at Amway Center in Orlando.
“In reality we had chances in that Boston game that we didn’t take advantage of,” Cody Martin said. “But I think we learned from that and we had another game where it was kind of close until the end. And we just had to make sure that we addressed those issues beforehand, before a game like this to kind of make sure we transition and fix the things we needed to fix.
“I feel like we are growing as a team in those areas, and I think that’s what we are going to continue to do, is mature in those areas.”
Kind of like what’s happening with Miles Bridges. He had yet another superb stat line, pouring in 31 points. He became the lone player in franchise history to net at least 30 points in three of the team’s initial five games the season.
Consider this for a little context: In his three previous seasons in the league, he registered at 30 points or more just three times. So he’s doubled that output in eight days.
“I was just talking to somebody on the staff,” Mason Plumlee said. “He’s been so impressive, I played against Charlotte a couple of times when he was coming off the bench. But he’s been off to a great start. He’s shooting the ball really well, but I think he puts so much pressure on the defense with his ability to attack and penetrate. Obviously, he runs the floor in transition as well as anybody, and he’s been so solid for us to start the season.”
Beginning it in this fashion even has the Hornets (4-1) slightly pondering the possibilities.
“It’s super early,” Plumlee said, “but you can see this being a special group and one that can do some things.”
Here are three things we learned in the Hornets’ victory in Orlando:
BENCH COMES THROUGH
Following a sluggish start to open the game, Borrego apparently didn’t like the energy on the floor and how things were looking and he went four deep into his bench.
The reserves didn’t let him down.
Led by Cody Martin’s fourth double-digit effort in five games and Jalen McDaniels’ sneaky good production, the Hornets’ reserves totaled 40 points -- 25 points in the first half alone. Martin also snared a career-high four steals.
Nick Richards turned in some solid minutes for the second consecutive outing, taking advantage of the quality minutes available due to PJ Washington missing his second straight game with knee soreness. Richards has steadily improved over the past few months dating back to summer league action in Las Vegas, and the second year-big was good against Orlando with four points and three rebounds in eight minutes.
“We have a lot of trust in each other and that started from the summer,” Martin said. “I could tell that we had a good team and we had a lot of chemistry together, and we wanted to win. We’re a young team. But we also have a lot of good vets and I think that we just jelled really well together. We want to win and our team is going to do whatever it takes to win.
“We have a lot of guys, and a lot of guys that can be in the rotation. So it’s just about being ready when you are called on. And you can tell that when you are going out to play it doesn’t matter who is on the floor. We trust each other and we play with a lot confidence. So as long as we do that we’ll build in the right direction.”
LAMELO’S FOUL TROUBLE
There is a fine line between digging in defensively and being too aggressive. LaMelo Ball is still trying to figure out how to walk that difficult balancing act.
Ball collected a pair of early fouls and didn’t get into any kind of good flow. He missed 11 of 14 attempts, posting just seven points -- his lowest of the season -- and six rebounds, three and three steals in 24 minutes. Ball had picked up at least three fouls in every game prior to Wednesday’s, and it’s forced him to take a seat on the bench on occasion. He fouled out against Boston and was powerless to do anything in the closing moments of a frustrating overtime.
Averaging 1.7 steals per game entering, he has proven he can be extremely effective anticipating the passing lanes and using his length to create deflections and engineer fastbreaks. That is when the Hornets are at their best, and it’s important he doesn’t pick up any cheap fouls.
“He’s got to find that balance for himself and I’m talking to him with that,” Borrego said. “I want him to be aggressive, but he’s got to be smart in how he defends. We can’t have careless turnovers and careless fouls by him, and I think that disrupted him and us early on. He picks up those early fouls, thankfully Ish (Smith) is there to go to.
“But we need Melo in those games. We need him to find some rhythm early in games and that gets disrupted at times with some silly fouls and fouling. So we’ll clean it up. He understands that and get we’ll better.”
NO HACK-A-PLUMLEE THIS TIME
Orlando coach Jamahl Mosley’s strategy on Plumlee wasn’t the same utilized by Celtics coach Ime Udoka.
In other words, and Plumlee never found himself at the line late against the Magic.
Wanting Plumlee to prove he can consistently hit his free throws in crunch time, Odoke directed his players to intentionally whack him. Plumlee made just 1 of 4 attempts, one of the many factors that didn’t go in the Hornets’ favor in those precious fourth-quarter moments.
He wasn’t found of the end result.
“Yes, obvious I didn’t love how I responded to that in the Boston game,” Plumlee said. “So just looking to get up there throughout the season and knocking them down.”
Borrego doesn’t seem worried.
“I think it just comes down to his confidence,” Borrego said. “Getting up there and shoot the ball. I trust him. We let him shoot the ball there. So it’s just step up to the line and knock them down. It’s nothing more, nothing less than that.”