The Hornets are in trouble. Without LaMelo or Hayward, they’re hard to watch

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Scott Fowler
·4 min read
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The Charlotte Hornets find themselves in a miniature crisis — not a big one quite yet, but something that needs to be tamped down before it starts blazing.

Wednesday night’s desultory 103-90 loss to Cleveland, a team that started the night 15 games below .500, was one of the lowest points of the Charlotte season. A banged-up, tired-out Hornets team looked lost and dispirited. It was the Hornets’ third loss in a row, all of them at home, and dropped Charlotte to 27-27 with a thud.

In fourth place in the Eastern Conference playoff race only a few days ago, Charlotte ended the night in eighth position and now has to face No. 2 Brooklyn Friday on the road.

With their regular season now 75% complete, the Hornets are limping along and getting passed in the standings left and right. Once a team that regularly scored around 120 points, now they struggle to get past 95.

“We’re limited offensively right now,” Charlotte coach James Borrego said afterward. “We’ll try to get to 100 points as much as we can. It’s going to be a challenge.”

Charlotte is 0-8 this season when not reaching 100, and Wednesday it never threatened triple digits.

Much of this has to do with LaMelo Ball, Gordon Hayward, Malik Monk and P.J. Washington all being hurt at the same time, because that’s a whole lot of scoring and creativity suddenly on the shelf. There’s no Ball to throw 70-foot passes ahead for layups and to get into the lane with impunity, and no Hayward to bail the team out of bad possessions by finding a good look just before the shot clock expires.

Charlotte did have Terry Rozier back in the lineup Wednesday. He led the team with 22 points but sounded frustrated afterward with how things are going.

“On offense, I just feel like it’s kind of standstill,” Rozier said. “It’s so predictable and I feel like a lot of teams know what we’re doing. We got a lot of guys standing around a lot. We’re just too stagnant. So I feel like we need to have more movement and be more unpredictable.”

Charlotte Hornets guard Terry Rozier, right, fights to get a shot off Wednesday against Cleveland guard Isaac Okoro. Rozier led Charlotte with 22 points in the loss and said afterward his team’s offense was currently too “predictable.”
Charlotte Hornets guard Terry Rozier, right, fights to get a shot off Wednesday against Cleveland guard Isaac Okoro. Rozier led Charlotte with 22 points in the loss and said afterward his team’s offense was currently too “predictable.”

Rozier nailed that one.

Wednesday’s game bordered on unwatchable at times unless Rozier or Miles Bridges (20 points) had the ball, as Jalen McDaniels got one shot after another blocked and Caleb Martin went 0 for 5 from the field and 0 for 2 on free throws.

The Martin twins played nearly 31 minutes between them and didn’t score a single point. So it was encouraging to see that long after the 2,955 fans had departed a game many probably wished in retrospect they had skipped, Cody and Caleb Martin came back out on the court and ran through one shooting drill after another.

Yes, the Hornets are trying. Effort is not a question. Talent is.

Charlotte needs Hayward (right foot sprain) or Ball (broken wrist) or Monk (sprained ankle) or Washington (sprained ankle) to come back. It sounds like Washington will come back first, and then Monk, while it’s still iffy whether Hayward or Ball will play at all again this season.

“If people return, they return,” Borrego said. “If not, this is the group. Nobody’s feeling sorry for us. We’ve just got to move forward.”

For the best part of this season, Hayward, Ball and Rozier were clearly the Hornets’ best three players, and all were healthy. Now only Rozier is, and he’s having a bit of deja vu.

“No excuses,” Rozier said. “We’re not pointing any fingers or putting anybody down. This is what we’ve got. It’s basically the same team we had last year.”

Charlotte Hornets guard Brad Wanamaker, right, is fouled by Cleveland Cavaliers forward Cedi Osman, left, on a drive to the basket Wednesday. Wanamaker scored nine points off the bench for the Hornets in the 103-90 loss.
Charlotte Hornets guard Brad Wanamaker, right, is fouled by Cleveland Cavaliers forward Cedi Osman, left, on a drive to the basket Wednesday. Wanamaker scored nine points off the bench for the Hornets in the 103-90 loss.

Being compared to “the same team we had last year” isn’t a good thing, given that Charlotte team went 23-42.

It’s not over for the Hornets yet; they still have 18 games left, and barring a near-total collapse they should at least make it into the NBA’s new play-in concept for the playoffs (finishing 7th through 10th guarantees a play-in spot).

But Wednesday showed a whole lot of Charlotte flaws, and the cavalry may not be coming anytime soon.

The Hornets are going to have to speed up their defensive rotations and move more on offense and Borrego has to figure out how to get more from his younger players. Because if nothing changes, the last quarter of the season is about to get ugly.