Friday night’s ESPN battle between the Charlotte Hornets and Los Angeles Lakers might have been lacking a little star power with LeBron James and Anthony Davis both sidelined, but it certainly wasn’t short on dramatics. In the end, the host Hornets survived a handful of comeback attempts by the visiting Lakers to hold on for a 117-114 win at Spectrum Center.
Miles Bridges led the purple and teal with a team-high 26 points, eight rebounds and six assists, good for his eighth 20-point performance in nine outings. But the Hornets’ man of the night was veteran Ish Smith, who poured in 22 points – his most in over two years – on 10-of-12 shooting, five assists and zero turnovers in 26 minutes off the bench.
Los Angeles mostly erased two separate 15-plus-point deficits in the opening three quarters to enter the fourth trailing by two. Charlotte retook a 10-point lead midway through the frame, but the Lakers regrouped to get within one with 24 seconds left. A LaMelo Ball free throw pushed the advantage back to two and now with the Lakers given one last chance, Russell Westbrook’s would-be game-winning 3-pointer clanged off the iron just before the final buzzer.
“We just stuck with it and kept playing,” said Head Coach James Borrego afterwards. “There was a point there where I feel like we could have built on that lead. [The Lakers] are professionals. They have a bunch of veterans who know how to play. We’re missing a ton of players as well, but our guys stepped up. We didn’t give in and kept fighting.”
“Coach calls your number, you just have to be prepared,” said Smith. “Tonight, I was prepared. I’m truly thankful that the Lord allows me to play this game. It’s been twelve years, so I’ll never take any game for granted. They got Hall-of-Famers over there [on the Lakers]. Any time you can get a win in the NBA, it’s huge. I was just coming in and bringing the energy and juice.”
Ball and Terry Rozier each scored 20 points and Mason Plumlee stuffed the statsheet with eight points, a season-high 17 rebounds and six assists for a Hornets bunch that was also missing Gordon Hayward, Kelly Oubre Jr. and Jalen McDaniels. Westbrook notched a season-high 35 points on 12-of-23 shooting for the Lakers, 30 of which came in the second half.
While the Hornets had a few chances to put this game away in the fourth quarter, the perseverance they showed against an unconventional Lakers squad still sporting a pair of all-time greats in Westbrook and Carmelo Anthony (19 points) was impressive. Charlotte might not have been at its best in this one, but it got the job done by being just good enough.
Added Borrego, “In this league, you just have to find a way to win. Some nights, it’s going to be pretty. Some nights, it’s not. Sometimes, you’re coming back and sometimes you’re holding onto leads. There’s a thousand ways to win an NBA game. We found one way tonight and that’s what I’m most proud of.”
The Hornets will close out their two-game homestand with an early afternoon matchup against the LA Clippers on Sunday, Jan. 30 beginning at 1 PM ET.