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The Charlotte Hornets stayed in the hunt to host a home game in next week’s NBA Play-In Tournament after taking control with a momentum-shifting second quarter in their 128-101 win over the Orlando Magic on Thursday night at Spectrum Center.
LaMelo Ball dazzled with a game-high 26 points on 10-of-21 shooting, eight rebounds, nine assists and four steals in the victory. In the process, he also drained his 300th career 3-pointer in just his 124th game, becoming the youngest player in NBA history to reach this milestone and the seventh-fastest player overall, per Hornets PR.
Ahead by two after a somewhat inconsistent opening 12 minutes, the Hornets sprinted into the second quarter on a 26-7 run to take a 21-point advantage with 5:48 still remaining in the frame. They eventually entered the break with a 20-point cushion and the Magic never got any closer than 12 the rest of the way, losing for the fifth time in seven meetings with Charlotte.
“Our defensive energy, our physicality, getting stops and getting out running,” said Hornets Head Coach James Borrego, when asked about what keyed the second-quarter surge. “The ball was moving, but it was dictated by our defense. Great energy – we have to continue with that defensive effort. I thought in general tonight, our focus and our physicality were there defensively. I thought we took a step forward here tonight.”
Added Terry Rozier, “We were definitely paying attention to detail and trying to be more physical [in the second quarter]. We knew they were going to go on runs and hit shots, but just paying attention to details definitely on the defensive end. Once we take care of what we have to take care of on defense, it’s our best offense. I think that was our main focus.”
Rozier ended up with 22 points and eight rebounds, while Kelly Oubre Jr. (16 points; +41) and Montrezl Harrell (14 points on 6-of-6 shooting) both had strong showings off the bench. Charlotte finished the night having topped Orlando across the board in rebounding (56-43), fast-break points (27-5) and second-chance scoring (13-6).
On the Orlando side, Chuma Okeke scored a team-high 20 points in the loss, with Moritz Wagner right behind him in the statsheet with 17 points. The Magic shot 40% - just 31% from 3-point range (15-of-48) – and turned the ball over 16 times, as well.
Midway through the fourth quarter, a skirmish broke out across the court from the visiting bench following a Jalen McDaniels foul on RJ Hampton. McDaniels received a technical foul in the ensuing fracas, while Harrell, Robin Lopez and Admiral Schofield were all ejected from the game.
With the victory, the Hornets have pulled to within one game of the Brooklyn Nets and Atlanta Hawks for eighth and ninth place, respectively, in the Eastern Conference. They are also now guaranteed to finish with their first non-losing season since going 48-34 in the 2015-16 campaign.
Charlotte will now close out the back-to-back on the road against the Chicago Bulls on Friday, April 8 starting at 8 PM ET.