When you’re a good team, you’re guaranteed to get everyone’s best shot every night. Rain or shine, teams will rise to the occasion and make life hell for you when they see you. Coming in to Wednesday night’s game, the Atlanta Hawks were shorthanded and missing some of their best players. The youngsters on the Hawks gave the Brooklyn Nets a hell of a battle, but Brooklyn did just enough to hang on and escape with a one point win. The W was their tenth in a row and they now sit in second place in the Eastern Conference standings.
It’s hard to place the Charlotte Hornets. The roster is young, and young teams tend to struggle and make mistakes. Growth is not linear and it takes time to reach your final destination. That said, this team should be better than what they are. Even after beating the Oklahoma City Thunder on Thursday night, the Hornets are 10-26 and near the bottom of the Eastern Conference. Steve Clifford is working to instill good long term habits with this team, and it’s gonna take some time to get there.
Where to follow the game
YES Network on TV. WFAN on radio. Tip after 7 PM.
Joe Harris has been bothered by a sore knee, and is out tonight. In fact, he remains back in Brooklyn. Ben Simmons is probable with a non COVID illness. Edmund Sumner is probable with a right thumb contusion. Day’Ron Sharpe was recalled from Long Island Friday.
Cody Martin is out as he recovers from left knee surgery. Kelly Oubre, Jr. is out with a left hand sprain. Dennis Smith, Jr. is questionable with a left ankle sprain.
The Hornets’ offense has been the worst in the NBA this season, and it’s got them in a bad predicament. Jonathan DeLong of At the Hive took a look at their woes and wrote:
The Hornets shot quality has deteriorated this year for a number of reasons. If nothing else, James Borrego implemented an offensive system that got the most out of the players within it. Steve Clifford hasn’t had the same success, though that can probably be attributed to both his offensive system and the injuries the Hornets have dealt with this season, particularly with LaMelo Ball. The Hornets are getting fewer open shots from the perimeter, and they get their shots blocked more than any team in the league. That’s where the system and lineup quality factor in. But even when they get open looks, the Hornets aren’t converting them. All of that has coalesced into the league’s most inefficient offense.
Those lack of open shots has led to them being last in the league in three point percentage. If you can’t knock down open shots and you can’t succeed at the rim, winning becomes even harder.
One big problem for the Hornets offense is Gordon Hayward. The former All Star was out for a few weeks with a shoulder fracture, and he returned to action on December 16 vs the Atlanta Hawks. Since coming back, he’s put up a .412/.211/.765 shooting split in 34 minutes a game. His overall numbers are among the worst of his career, and if he’s not playing close to average, he’s in trouble.
Defense will be key to this one, and rim protection will take on even more importance for the Nets. The Hornets are second in shots attempted inside of the restricted area, but are fifth worst in efficiency. On the flip side, the Nets are third best at defending the restricted area on the season. Nic Claxton has been a key part of that success and will do battle with an old friend. Mason Plumlee starts at center and leads the team in rebounds. He and the Hornets are slightly behind the Nets in opponent’s field goal percentage in the restricted area, and it’ll be up to him to thwart off the Nets when they get to the basket.
Kevin Durant will look to keep the party going into 2023. KD has been magnificent on the defensive end this year and has steadied the team. His offense is as sparkling as ever and he hit what turned out to be the game winner against the Hawks on Wednesday. Durant made clutch plays in both Charlotte games earlier this year and will look to keep them off balance one more time. Without Oubre, more will fall on the shoulders of PJ Washington and Jalen McDaniels.
The Hornets defense will be getting a Hall of Fame lesson as they have a date with LeBron James and the Lakers on Monday night. Whew!
Player to watch: Lamelo Ball
Playing in the NBA at 21 years old is incredibly tough. Playing in the NBA at 21 and being the team’s franchise player is even more tough. That’s the predicament Lamelo Ball currently finds himself in. Coming off a breakout, All Star 2021-2022 season, the hope was he can build on that and become even better. Ankle sprains have thrown a wrench into those plans, and the Hornets haven’t been able to take off. When he has played, Ball has kept the turnovers to a minimum, and that’s a welcome development for a third year guard.
Kyrie Irving will look to put on a show to wrap up 2022. Irving had another fourth quarter bonanza on Wednesday in Atlanta, and he’s been the top fourth quarter in the NBA this season. Having Irving firing on all cylinders gives the Nets some breathing room when Durant sits and lets the Irving led units grow even more confident every day.
From the Vault
Back in January 2006, the New Jersey Nets were on the road looking to push a nine game winning streak up to ten. Jacque Vaughn was in the house, the Nets faced the Toronto Raptors, and Vince Carter was the man of the hour…
And the sports world lost a giant on Thursday with the passing of Pele.
Late Friday night, it was announced that legendary broadcast journalist, Barbara Walters, passed away at the age of 93.
This has been a pretty sad Vault, so let’s hear something fun as we cross over into 2023!
More reading: At the Hive