Physicality, Responding Remain Works in Progress for Hornets
With Gordon Hayward, Mason Plumlee and Kelly Oubre Jr. all out of the lineup, Hornets Head Coach James Borrego approached Thursday night’s preseason home opener as an opportunity for the rest of his players to step up in the wake of some short-handedness.
The Memphis Grizzlies ended up cruising to a dominant 128-98 victory after taking control early in the first quarter and never looking back. Charlotte struggled the entire evening in its attempts to match the visitors’ physicality, allowing a back-breaking 42 second-quarter points on 63% shooting and losing the rebounding battle by 31.
“We didn’t respond the right way,” said Borrego afterwards. “We hung our heads a little bit. [Memphis] is big, they’re physical. You have to give them credit. We have to be more physical. It’s one area we’ve addressed during camp. They got to the rim too much. We didn’t get to the rim enough. I know it’s preseason, but we’ve got to find more fight.”
Added Terry Rozier, “It was self-explanatory. Everybody saw it. We just got punked. We have to adjust and figure it out by the time the season starts. We were short-handed, but that’s part of the game. I don’t want to talk about how it’s just preseason because I’ve never had that attitude, but we’re going to be alright. It’s a long season that hasn’t started yet.”
Plumlee’s absence (Health and Safety Protocols) in particular took a heavy toll on Charlotte’s frontcourt, which rolled with a smaller PJ Washington at the starting five followed by Nick Richards in the second unit. Memphis bruiser Steven Adams had his way around the basket (15 points, 16 rebounds – eight offensive – in 24 minutes) as did acrobatic point guard Ja Morant (16 points; 4-of-5 at the rim).
Rozier produced the Hornets’ most impressive statline, which included a game-high 21 points (5-of-9 from three) and five assists. Fellow Charlotte two-guard James Bouknight also had another big night, finishing with 17 points in 26 minutes off the bench.
Two particular areas the Hornets were looking to address coming off Monday’s road win in Oklahoma City were turnovers and three-point shooting. Charlotte managed a slightly-more-tidy 14 giveaways this time around (22 vs. Thunder), but shot just 10-of-41 from deep (24%) against the Grizzlies.
“In general, the ball didn’t move enough for me tonight,” added Borrego, when asked about the lower turnover rate. “I think we could have moved the ball side-to-side. We played on one side too much. Partly that’s their defense and we’re obviously missing a couple playmakers that would have helped in that area. The ball stuck, but overall, I thought the decision-making was okay. On our passes, we just didn’t move it enough for me.”
Missing those three key rotation players was certainly a major reason why this second exhibition outing morphed into an ugly blowout. There will be times over the course of the regular season though where the Hornets are going to inevitably face similar situations, likely on multiple occasions. And they know they’ll need to respond much better the next time.