Hornets Start New Year with Rough Defensive Showing

Charlotte Snaps 3-Game Winning Streak Following Another 30+ PT Loss to Phoenix
by Sam Perley

More Coverage: Game Gallery | James Borrego Postgame | Kelly Oubre Jr. Postgame | Miles Bridges Postgame

For the past two-and-a-half games, the Charlotte Hornets had been playing some of their best basketball on the defensive end in quite some time. But on Sunday night at Spectrum Center, some old (bad) habits circled back around as the Phoenix Suns breezed their way to an easy 133-99 victory.

Charlotte used a 17-4 first-half run to trim a 17-point Phoenix lead down to four before the Suns responded with a 35-13 stretch to take a 73-47 halftime lead. The Hornets continued to have a tough time staying in front of the ball and failed to get consistent stops in the half-court and in transition, leading to 21 fast-break points, 22 points off turnovers and 28 second-chance points. Phoenix ended up shooting 51% and also crushed the Hornets on the glass by 17.

“[Phoenix] made shots, they played harder than us, they out-executed us,” said Hornets Head Coach James Borrego afterwards. “They were the more physical team, the more aggressive team. They competed and they played well. We could not get a handle on them. The ball was moving for them, they were making shots. We were trying to take the ball out of Chris Paul and Devin Booker’s hands and they just moved it extremely well. They made shots early and we just couldn’t recover. We were dry on the offensive end and it just led to bad transition defense.”

LaMelo Ball (17 points) and Kelly Oubre Jr. (15) both had 15-point games for Charlotte in the loss. Phoenix overcame a depleted frontcourt rotation – Deandre Ayton and JaVale McGee were both in Health and Safety Protocols – thanks to big nights from Booker (24 points), Paul (16 assists) and second-year big man Jalen Smith (career-high-tying 19 points and 12 rebounds).

How this season plays out for the Hornets is going to rest largely on how far their defense can take them and performances like this one against the Suns simply aren’t going to cut it. Granted Phoenix – which now owns each of the two largest wins over the Hornets this season – is the reigning Western Conference champions, but Charlotte isn’t even giving itself a chance to compete when it falls behind by almost 30 in the second quarter.

“You’re never as bad as you think you are and you’re never as good as you think you are,” added Borrego. “I think that’s the bottom line. You come in here comfortable thinking you won a few in a row and you’re just going to show up and win games. It’s just not the reality in this league, especially against a team like [Phoenix]. A very humbling experience tonight. We need to respond tomorrow night.”

The Hornets will make a quick trip north to take on the Washington Wizards for the second leg of their back-to-back on Monday, Jan. 3 beginning at 7 PM ET.

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