In the hour and a half leading up to tipoff on a typical evening, the Spectrum Center court is usually buzzing with a flurry of activity. The Charlotte Hornets sprinkle out sporadically, each warming up individually during their allotted times in order to minimize the congregating.
Let’s just say the floor was abnormally empty Monday night. And it appears that isn’t going to switch over to the Hornets’ favor any time soon, not with their latest tough blow coming down roughly 90 minutes prior to the pregame introductions when Ish Smith became the Hornets’ fifth player to enter the league’s health and safety protocols.
Yet, coach James Borrego didn’t flinch.
“Nothing new,” Borrego said. “We’ve seen this before. We move forward. It’s a great opportunity for someone to step up. I love it. This is why we do this. This is a beautiful thing. It’s about the journey, this is about the big picture here. It’s not about the win and the loss tonight, that’s not what this is about. For us, we’re trying to get to a championship level and these are the moments that define you. They build resiliency, they toughen you up and they make us better down the road.”
So their matchup against Philadelphia should be one to keep in their memory banks. Despite being undermanned again, the Hornets had an opportunity to win it in regulation. But they couldn’t make enough decisive plays in the clutch and lost to Philadelphia 127-124 in overtime.
“Disappointed,” said Kelly Oubre, who led them with 35 points. “Obviously, definitely wanted to win. But just taking the good out of it, young guys stepped up today. I feel that we were able to just compete with one of the best teams in the East and showing proof. We’ll see them again on Wednesday, so I think it was a good learning lesson for us.”
Here are three things we learned in the Hornets’ loss to Philadelphia in the first of two matchups in a three-day span:
NEED MORE FROM GORDON
No longer overflowing with offensive firepower, the Hornets could certainly use an extra boost from the two starters still in the lineup, and that goes especially for Gordon Hayward.
Hayward struggled in the second half of their win in Atlanta and didn’t have the touch against Philadelphia, either. Although he recorded a season-best nine assists, he hit just 5 of 18 attempts and made one of eight shots beyond the 3-point arc. If he shot better than 20 percent, the Hornets could have pulled it out.
Hayward did come up with a key steal with 1:06 remaining, jump starting a fast break that paved the way for Kelly Oubre’s go-ahead 3-pointer with 1:01 left in the fourth quarter.
“I’ve certainly got to play better,” Hayward said. “Just have to shoot better. I felt like most of my shots are shots that I’m very, very capable of hitting. Especially the threes. They all felt right there. They were just short. So I’ll just rest up here, have a nice little rest day and then shoot it again, let it fly again next game.”
ABOUT THOSE BALL DUTIES
The absence of their top two point guards meant the Hornets didn’t have any natural ball-handlers available, so they were forced to improvise at the position.
Cody Martin, who got the starting nod at the position, was the primary person tabbed with bringing the ball up the court and helping them settle in offensively. He was all right in his temporary new role, but accounted for four of their eight turnovers. Two were unforced miscues.
Miles Bridges, Gordon Hayward and PJ Washington also occasionally served as offense initiators, an indicator of just how limited the Hornets’ options currently are.
“We don’t try to play with sets,” Oubre said. “We try to get out and run in transition and play in flow. So I think that was something that we can continue with the lineup out there. Melo and obviously T-Ro, they are two of our best ball-handlers and they get us settled whenever things aren’t going the right way on offense as far as the flow.
“Cody can do that as well. He’s an amazing ball-handler. ‘G,’ he was playing the ‘1’ today. So it’s kind of next man up. We kind of feed off of each other. We didn’t have any positions out there today.”
THOR CAN BE MIGHTY
JT Thor’s first career basket was about as memorable as they come.
Thor made good on a play Borrego drew up for him a timeout, sneaking along the baseline unnoticed until Gordon Hayward delivered the perfectly-executed pass to the lanky 6-foot-9 forward. Thor extended his reach and threw down a ferocious left-handed dunk despite being fouled by Philadelphia big man Andre Drummond.
Showing off his inside-outside skills, Thor also drained a 3-pointer too. His eight points off the bench were bested only by Washington’s 16 and James Bouknight’s 11. So what is Thor’s best position? A ‘4?’A ‘5?’
“Yeah I don’t have a number for him,” Borrego said. “He’s all that — ‘3,’ ‘4,’ ‘5.’ I don’t care. He’s got length, he’s got size, he can defend, he can rebound, he can shoot it. We’ll figure it out. Just like we’ve done with all these young guys in the past. I’m not going to pigeonhole him and (go), ‘He’s a ‘3,’ 4 5. He’s just going to go out there and guard. Play his tail off, compete, rebound, run the floor, make the right decision, shoot the ball when he’s open, move it when he’s not, play with great energy. I think along the way we are just going to figure him out.”