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Charlotte Hornets aim for early consistency with playoffs on line
First quarter woes an issue down stretch
Published Saturday, May 8, 2021 10:10 pm
by Herbert L. White

Charlotte Hornets coach James Borrego wants his team to get off to better starts as they battle for a spot in the NBA's postseason tournament.

The Hornets are in no position to afford slow starts.

Charlotte (33-34), which can get to .500 Sunday with a win against New Orleans, need one victory or Chicago loss to lock down a postseason berth. Their chances of accomplishing would improve by getting off stronger over the regular season’s final five games – three of them at Spectrum Center.

“The main thing, when we play well early, for some reason, we’re making shots, we get off to a good start offensively,” Hornets coach James Borrego said. “When we go dry, we score two points in the first four minutes, three minutes, we’re not shooting it well for some reason. We have not played well early in a number of these games, but until we find that, our defense has to settle in and help us in that area. The games we’ve won recently, and we’ve played well in we’ve [gotten] off to good starts making shots.”

The difference was in sharp relief during back-to-back games against Chicago and Orlando. In Thursday’s 120-99 loss to the Bulls, Chicago rushed off to a 34-24 first-quarter lead and never trailed. In Friday’s 122-112 win, the Hornets overcame a 31-26 first quarter deficit by outscoring the Magic in each succeeding quarter. It also helped that Charlotte limited the Magic to 41.8% shooting.

“Definitely had to bounce back,” said LaMelo Ball, who scored 27 points on 11-of-22 shooting against Orlando. “I feel like growth, we took a little step. We knew we had to win [against the Magic], and that’s what we did. So proud of everybody.”

Chicago “was a tough loss,” said forward Jalen McDaniels, who scored 13 points and pulled down eight rebounds against the Magic. “We can’t even think about that. We just had to respond. It was just an ugly loss. We just had to respond [the next day], come out and get the dub any way we could.”

That means playing with a sense of urgency during the stretch drive to the postseason. Most of these Hornets players aren’t accustomed to being in this position with the exception of veterans Cody Zeller, Terry Rozier and Gordon Hayward, who is sidelined with a foot injury. At this stage in the season, even with injuries that continue to wreak havoc with Charlotte’s depth, no one’s going to feel sorry for them.

“We’ve got to be competitive, that’s the goal here” Borrego said. “You’ve got to stay edgy, you’ve got to be physical. Everybody’s going through this. It’s a process for us, we’re a very young team. We’ve just got to stick with it. The reality is … the Charlotte Hornets are second in the league in first, second and third-year players. Only Oklahoma City has played more first-year, second-year, third-year players, period. This team is developing, they’re growing.”


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