Three things we learned in the Charlotte Hornets’ loss to the Bucks in Milwaukee

·6 min read

When the Charlotte Hornets glanced over at their opponent and how they’ve managed to construct a championship-level roster around a star, there’s a part of them that probably daydreamed about that exact scenario unfolding for them.

LaMelo Ball could very well eventually be the Hornets’ personal version of Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo one day. At least that’s their hope anyway.

“You look at a guy in Melo, imagine Melo in five years,” coach James Borrego said. “Imagine Melo right now in five years. The amount of reps he’s going to have and the way he sees the floor now. Can you imagine what he looks like in five years? Special.

“But it just takes time to get there. He’s much further ahead than even I anticipated at this stage. So we’ve just got to continue to build on that and everybody else has got to make those decisions.”

Charlotte Hornets’ LaMelo Ball tries to get past Milwaukee Bucks’ Jrue Holiday during the first half of an NBA basketball game Wednesday, Dec. 1, 2021, in Milwaukee. (AP Photo/Morry Gash)
Charlotte Hornets’ LaMelo Ball tries to get past Milwaukee Bucks’ Jrue Holiday during the first half of an NBA basketball game Wednesday, Dec. 1, 2021, in Milwaukee. (AP Photo/Morry Gash)

Although they hung tough with the Bucks for most of the night, the Hornets still have a ways to go before that fantasy becomes reality. Done in by a couple of miscues in the closing seconds and unable to cash in on Ball’s fourth outing this season with 30 or more points and career-best eight made 3-pointers, they succumbed to Milwaukee 127-125 at Fiserv Forum on Wednesday night.

Ball tossed in a career-best 36 points to go with nine assists and five rebounds, capping off his salivating evening with a game-tying fall away 3-pointer from 28 feet with 5.9 seconds remaining. But Antetokounmpo’s spinning underhanded layup with two seconds left sent the Hornets (13-11) to their third straight defeat, a stinging one given they led for most of the game.

“I feel like effort for sure was there, maybe on the little run when they came back we could have probably moved the ball a little more, got some better possessions,” Ball said. “But yeah, it came down to the end and I feel like we were all fighting.

“Obviously, I feel like the coach was happy because we were fighting to the end, but we all want to win. So I feel like we just needed that win. But I feel like this is going to help us going into the next game.”

So does Miles Bridges, whose desperation heave from midcourt at the final buzzer bounced off the rim.

“I love the way we played today, so I can’t even be mad at us,” said Bridges, who had 22 points and nine rebounds. “If we continue to play like this, I feel like we are going to go on a win streak again. Everybody was sharing the ball, taking on the defensive side of the ball, serious. Once we start taking the defensive side seriously, that’s when we are going to become a good team and stay consistent.”

Ball may very well be scary good by then.

“He’s grown all year,” Borrego said. “He’s a fantastic player. We are lucky to have him, fortunate to have him. Against one of the elite teams, the NBA champions, on the road his fearlessness is fantastic. He’s a great player. He’s only getting better. This is just the tip of the iceberg. The kid’s got a bright, bright future.”

Here are three things we learned in the Hornets’ third consecutive loss:

KELLY OUBRE WAS THEIR WHOLE BENCH

With Cody Martin sitting out his second straight game batting an illness he told The Observer is like a bad stomach bug that had him feeling even worse Tuesday than he did on Monday, the Hornets were thin in the reserve department.

So Kelly Oubre took matters into his own hands.

Oubre pumped in 25 points, with 20 coming in the first half on the strength of five made 3-pointers. He had all but five of the points scored by a non-starter, continuing his impressive production. Oubre, who came in averaging 14.9 points, has drained five or more 3-pointers in a half in three games, and it marked the second time he’s done it off the bench, tying him with Ben Gordon and Malik Monk for the most by a Hornets bench player since the 1996-97 season.

“Kelly’s been doing this for a while now, so when he plays like that we are going to have success more than not,” Borrego said. “So shooting it well, playing with a lot of confidence off the bench. Obviously, we’ll add Cody Martin back to the bench as we go. But the way Kelly’s playing, it’s elevating our play as a team. So we are going to need that off the bench. Really proud of his effort tonight.”

WHAT SLOW START?

The molasses-like problems the Hornets have had lately, which directly led to them dropping into hefty deficits prior to halftime, wasn’t something they had to worry about for once. They had it going early and often against the Bucks, ensuring there was not about to be a repeat performance of what transpired during their losing stretch.

In fact, it was the exact opposite. They led by as many as 18 points and netted 41 in the opening quarter.

Putting up 68 in the first half against the defending champs and their length was a confidence booster. That represented their second-highest output in a half this season, trailing only the 72 they posted against Portland at home on Halloween. The 10 3-pointers they canned in the first quarter tied for the most made in a quarter in an NBA game this season.

“We know how good of a team they are, so we knew if we got off to a bad start it was going to be over from the get-go,” Bridges said. “So we came out firing and we had a great first quarter and it trickled over, So we just want to continue to get better, try to close games better and just stay with this same mindset.”

SHARE AND SHARE ALIKE

An unselfish approach had the Hornets’ offense flowing.

It was obvious the Hornets made a more concerted effort to incorporate more ball fluidity into the mix against the Bucks, understanding that was an ingredient needed to hang with Milwaukee. Assists on eight of their first 11 buckets tipped off their trend and propelled them to a total of 30 assists overall on their 43 made field goals.

Ball, along with Terry Rozier, were the main catalysts. Rozier recorded seven assists in the first quarter, the most in a quarter in his career. That hadn’t been accomplished since Devonte’ Graham had that many in a game in 2020.

Ball had 10 points created off assists in the second quarter, engineering their offense to near perfection.

“Just the way we were moving the ball, I feel like we got back to our normal selves,” Ball said. “Everyone touching it, everybody playing with each other.”

Which was different than how it was in their losses in Chicago and Houston.

“Just stagnant and stuff, really wasn’t locked in like that,” Ball said, “really wasn’t thinking about moving the ball. I feel like tonight we did, though.”

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