BUZZ WEEKLY: West Coast Road Trip Edition

HORNETS WEEKLY: WEST COAST TRIP EDITION

Written by David W. Walters

LAST WEEKS ACTION…

The Charlotte Hornets (4-6) week long road trip was definitely a bumpy one, as they went 1-3 on a four game west coast slate last week.  The trip could have easily ended up 2-2 or 3-1, but some horrible second half play caused the Hornets to let two 20+ point leads slip away.

Kemba Walker.jpg Lakers

Photo credit (NBAE/Getty Images)

The Hornets started their west coast trip last Sunday night when they visited a winless Laker team at the Staples Center.  The Hornets started out strong, building a sizeable lead while the Lakers laid enough bricks the build another Staples Center.  Los Angeles battled back in the second quarter but some key plays down the first half stretch helped the Hornets go into the locker room with a 51-42 lead.

Both teams reversed roles in the second half, as the Hornets came out and played lackadaisical basketball, looking lost as the Lakers put together their best half of the season and blew the doors off a reeling Charlotte team.  Los Angeles’ hot shooting was too much for Charlotte to keep up with and the Hornets once again lost a game by failing to close.  Hornets lose, 92-107.

Neal

Photo credit (NBAE/Getty Images)

Two nights later, the nightmare scenario repeated itself in Portland.  The Hornets jumped out to a lead behind the strong play of its backcourt; Lance Stephenson started off hot and scored nine points in the first quarter, Kemba Walker had seven points and P.J. Hairston had six points in the period.  Charlotte was up, 35-21, at the end of the first quarter; the Hornets shot 64% from the field and went 3-3 from long range.

The Hornets stayed hot going into the second quarter as the reserves quickly pushed the lead to 19.  Portland made a run at the end of the quarter to chip away at the lead, but the Hornets still took a 64-51 lead into the locker room after playing what was easily their best half of the season.

The Blazers came out of the locker room and played stifling defense against the Hornets, who looked lost on offense after turning in their strongest offensive performance of the year in the first half.  Portland made runs and came up with plays when they needed them most, a stark contrast to the Hornets, who lost another game within their grasp, 100-102.

Kemba Suns

Photo credit (NBAE/Getty Images)

Next up was a Friday night matchup against a tough Phoenix Suns team that played an up-tempo pace that was sure to challenge the Hornets defense.  Charlotte started the game off slow, but they picked up the pace in the second quarter, playing better defense and scoring 33 points en route to a 47-47 halftime score.

The Hornets carried their strong play into the second half, keeping pace with Phoenix in the third quarter behind strong play from Kemba Walker and Bismack Biyombo, who was saw his first action of the season.  Biyombo played very well against the Suns, finishing with 11 points and 10 rebounds, and Walker finished with 19 points, with 12 of them coming in the second half.  The Hornets got their first road victory of the years, beating the Suns, 103-95.

“I thought our defense was pretty good throughout the whole game, even the first quarter,” Jefferson said. “When you play against a team like Phoenix or Portland, you know they’re going to go on an 8-0 or 10-0 run at any given time. We had to keep them moving because they have a lot of energy.

Kemba Warriors

Photo credit (NBAE/Getty Images)

The last stop on the Hornets’ west coast trip was a visit to Oakland to face off against a red-hot Warriors team.  Charlotte tried to keep up the pace in this one, but it was a futile effort, particularly in the second quarter when Golden State blew the doors off the Hornets, knocking down six three-pointers to put them up by 21 points at the end of the first half.

The Warriors cooled off just a bit in the second half but were still too much for the Hornets to contain.  Not much went right for Charlotte in this matchup, the only side note being that rookie Noah Vonleh made his debut, taking and missing his only shot in six minutes of action.

WHAT TO MAKE OF THE ROAD TRIP…

Not many positives come out of this road trip; as I said in my season preview it will take some time for this team to gel together as a third of the roster is new and injuries limited the Hornets ability to build cohesion during the preseason.  We’ve seen glimpses of inspired play from Charlotte so far this season, but we’ve also seen the team look completely lost on both sides of the ball in a sort of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde way that frustrates everyone involved.

While Lance Stephenson has struggled to establish himself as a scorer for the Hornets, he does lead the team in rebounds and he has contributed defensively.  He started off so hot in the Portland game, but then disappeared in the second half as the Hornets struggled to score.  Stephenson was vocal this past week about his desire to be more involved down the stretch, and hopefully he will be as this week moves along.

We saw the first game action from Bismack Biyombo, and it was pretty impressive.  Biyombo had languished on the Hornets bench all season, but was ready when his number was called.  This is a contract year for Biz, and it looks like he intends to make the most of his opportunities this season; an encouraging sign for Charlotte, as they have been leaning heavily on undersized Jason Maxiell as their backup center this year.

Cody Zeller has really improved his game this year, showing off the athleticism that made him Charlotte’s top pick last year.  He has been a big contributor to the Hornets’ success with his energy off the bench.  He has been more active on the boards this season and it finally seems that he has figured out a way to stay out of constant foul trouble, a problem that plagued him during his rookie campaign.

Rookie P.J. Hairston worked his way into the rotation with his defense and ability to stretch the floor with his shooting, he even earned his first start in the Warriors game.  While his scoring has cooled off a bit, it seems that Clifford is comfortable with Hairston on the floor.

We got our first look at our other rookie, Noah Vonleh, albeit an unimpressive one.  Vonleh has seen the court twice this year for the Hornets as he recovers from a sports hernia, once in the preseason and his regular season debut against the Warriors.  While we still don’t really have an idea of how he measures up against the competition, it is encouraging to see him working his way into the rotation, hopefully we’ll see more in the coming week.

With a logjam at the wing position, veteran guard Gerald Henderson has found himself as the odd man out.  He is averaging 3.3 points per game this season and only managed five points in a season high 28 minutes against Golden State.  It remains to be seen what Hendo’s future with the team will look like and, in his defense, he is coming off an injured hamstring, but the early returns haven’t been promising and other players have stepped up into the role originally meant for him.

 

MOVING FORWARD…

The Hornets look to get back on track this week and their upcoming schedule looks a lot easier than last weeks brutal list of opponents.  It all starts tonight, as the Hornets return to the Hive to face off against Dirk Nowitzki and the Dallas Mavericks.  Dallas has been great offensively this season, topping the league in scoring with 109.5 points per game, with Nowitzki leading the way at 20.3 points per outing.

On Wednesday, the Hornets travel to Bankers Life Fieldhouse to face Roy Hibbert and the Indiana Pacers.  Conversely, the Pacers have been horrendous on offense, ranked 27th in the league in scoring, but their rebounding and defense remain their calling card, as they are second in rebounding and fourth in scoring defense.  Expect this one to be a low scoring, grind-it-out affair.

The Hornets return to the Hive on Friday night for a southeast divisional game against the Orlando Magic.  The Magic are young, but they feature a very athletic team, with Tobias Harris, Victor Oladipo and Evan Fournier.  While those names may not ring a bell, they are all talented players capable of giving the Hornets defense fits.

The Hornets finish up on Sunday when they face the Miami Heat for the second time this season; they won the first matchup at the Hive, 96-89.  The Heat started the season off strong but have lost a few games as of late.  Chris Bosh has had a good start to the season, but has slumped lately, and Dwyane Wade has missed his last two games and is considered day-to-day this week.

Michael Kidd-Gilchrist has missed the last two games with a stress reaction in his right foot, he will be re-evaluated later this week; Hairston will get his second start of the season in his place.  Gary Neal sustained a concussion in the game against the Warriors and will be out until he passes concussion protocol.  Walker is listed as probable with back soreness and Marvin Williams is battling tendinitis in his left knee.

The Hornets have an excellent opportunity to rebound from last weeks rough stretch and hopefully they can emerge somewhat healthy with a record above .500 after Sunday.

That’s all for now Hornets fans, until next time, KEEP BUZZING!

 

you can follow David W. Walters @Original_DWade.

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