Charlotte Closes 2018 with Win over Magic

By Matt Rochinski

The Hornets rung in the New Year in impressive fashion on Monday with nearly 15,000 in attendance at Spectrum Center, picking up their 13-consecutive win over the Orlando Magic, 125-100. Kemba Walker led six different Hornets players scoring in double figures with 24 points to go with seven assists and three rebounds in just 27 minutes of play after resting the final quarter with the game in hand.

Malik Monk led three Charlotte reserves in double-digit scoring with 21 points on 7-of-14 shooting from the field, including 3-of-6 from beyond the arc. It marked the fourth time Monk has scored 20+ points in 32 appearances this season after having five such outings in all of 2017-18.

“Oh yeah, we needed it, we needed that. We needed to close out the year,” said Monk. “How you end the year is how you start the new one, so we’re starting off with a good start.”

Willy Hernangomez and Devonte’ Graham also added 10 points apiece off the bench as the Hornets bench outscored Orlando’s, 61-45. Graham played some of the game’s most impactful minutes with Jeremy Lamb forced out with a right hamstring strain after just nine minutes of action in the first quarter.

With Lamb out and perhaps not wanting to mix up the rotation of his second unit, Head Coach James Borrego opted to start Graham in place of Lamb to start the second half. The Magic quickly erased the Hornets 10-point halftime advantage, cutting Charlotte’s lead to 67-65 with 9:15 remaining in the third. Graham seemed to settle in with the first unit from that point as he would go on to score 10 of Charlotte’s next 28 points in the quarter as Charlotte dominated on both ends of the court in a 28-12 run to close the stanza and put the home team up, 95-77, allowing the Hornets starters to sit the rest of the way.

“I was really proud of the guys tonight. Really moved the ball, shared the ball, I think there was an unselfish spirit out there,” said Borrego. “It started with the first group, the second group came in and they kept it moving. I felt, for the most part for 48 minutes, it was a very complete unselfish ball-movement game. I thought we were aggressive tonight, 33 free throws and 29 assists, I think we’ll take that every night offsensively. But a lot of this was started with our defense. I think we locked in defensively, we gave up one [bad] quarter in the second, but we got it back in the second half.”

Cody Zeller (14 points) and Marvin Williams (10) also scored in double figures in the starting lineup for the Charlotte, but the Hornets lost Zeller in the third quarter to a fractured right hand that forced him to miss the remainder of the contest and leaves his status in question going forward.

“Cody is obviously going to be out for a bit, how long we don’t know. Where we go from here is what we’re working on now and we’ll know more probable tomorrow and the next step for him,” said Borrego. “Obviously he’s a big part of what we’re doing and a big part of what we’ve done this season. It’s a big loss for us but it’s an opportunity for someone else, we have some bigs on this roster that are more than capable of stepping up and we need those guys to step up. I feel bad for Cody because he’s having such a great year, a big year for us, and it’s just an unfortunate break for him.”

With win, Charlotte ends 2018 at 18-18 overall and sits alone atop the Southeast Division standings heading into 2019.

“It was a good team effort tonight. Everybody did a great job coming in and making some great contributions to this win,” said Walker. “But you know, we’ve got to get more consistent still. We’ve been doing this all year. Go on the road, bad loss, come home, get a great win. It just can’t be like that. We’ve got to get some type of consistency between us. We’ve got to get right.”

Charlotte will look to get above the .500 mark when they welcome Dallas to Charlotte for a 7 p.m. tip on Wednesday at Spectrum Center.