PJ Washington scored 32 points while LaMelo Ball tallied 28 points and 11 assists but the much injured Charlotte Hornets lost a close one to the Miami Heat, 111-105.
The Hornets got off to a hot start. PJ Washington hit four first quarter 3-pointers while LaMelo Ball was relentless attacking the basket. He was a big part of the Heat point guard rotation getting in early foul trouble. The Hornets as a team hit their first six 3-point attempts and built up a lead that at one point reached double figures. They went cold early in the second quarter with more bench players, and that let the Heat get back into the game. Turnovers continue to fuel the Heat run. The 16-point output in the quarter and a Jimmy Butler half court heave put the Hornets in a nine point deficit heading into the half.
The teams traded baskets for just about the entirety of the second half. The game hovered around a mid-single digit margin for the whole 24 minutes. The Hornets cleaned up some of the turnover issues that plagued them in the first half, but they couldn’t get enough stops or make enough shots to go on a run. The Heat tried to put the game out of reach with big threes by Jaime Jaquez and Duncan Robinson late, but the Hornets kept answering. PJ Washington was extra aggressive and Bryce McGowens and Nick Smith hit their own big 3-pointers for the Hornets. Jimmy Butler ultimately did what he does and put the game away with six points in the last two minutes.
We got good PJ tonight. With so many of the Hornets top scoring options on the shelf, the Hornets needed PJ Washington to pick up the slack. He did so in a big way, scoring a season high 32 points and hitting six threes. He had some not-so-great shots down the stretch, but you’ve got to be happy with how he played on the whole.
Bryce McGowens has looked tentative and ineffective in his limited minutes so far this season. With the pressure off and virtually guaranteed minutes given all the injuries, McGowens looked like an entirely different player. He was aggressive from the outset trying to attack the basket and firing up threes in rhythm. He ended up with 12 points and three made 3-pointers. If any combination of Brandon Miller, Gordon Hayward, and Terry Rozier continue to miss time, this is the McGowens that the Hornets need.
LaMelo Ball continued his strong run of play. The efficiency wasn’t great with Ball trying to force offense due to all the injuries, but he was still vital to most the offensive success the Hornets had. He finished with 28 points and 11 assists (and eight turnovers but we don’t have to talk about that). He’ll be super fun to watch when the team is back at almost full strength, if that ever happens.
The half court defense was actually good for most of the night. There were a handful of complete breakdowns that led to easy layups, particularly when the Hornets played zone, but they had their fair share of very strong defensive possessions. They maybe benefitted from a Heat offense that played into their hands chasing mismatches, but it was still much improved from the defense we’ve been watching the last few games.
It’s hard to see what this team is supposed to be with so many players out. Two starters in Gordon Hayward and Terry Rozier are out, and a would-be fill-in starter in Brandon Miller is out as well. That leaves players thrust into roles that are too big for their current ability, and the Hornets just can’t win many games like that. They need the injury bug to go away.
The Hornets turned the ball over 18 times, and that was the difference in the game. The Heat scored 23 points off the Hornets turnovers while the Hornets only got nine going the other way. That’s a big deal in a game the Hornets only lost by six. The Hornets had a few sloppy turnovers in the back court that led to easy Heat buckets and more than a handful of somewhat unforced turnovers that were just bad decisions.
Theo Maledon was 0-for-5 from the field and is now shooting 31% from the field and 17% from three for the season. He’s gonna want to turn that around. Unfortunately when healthy, I don’t know how much faith I have in Frank Ntilikina to do a whole lot better.
Ish Smith isn’t the answer as a player on the floor. I’m sure he’s a great presence in the locker room and at practice, but it’s really hard for the Hornets to run an efficient offense with him on the floor, especially with how little healthy offense is left on the roster. The Hornets were -11 in his 19 minutes. His refusal to shoot threes isn’t offset quite as much by his quickness as it used to be, and it ruins the Hornets spacing.
Moral of the story, the Hornets point guard depth is not good enough. Who could’ve seen that coming before the season?
The Hornets have a couple of days off before another In-Season Tournament game on Friday against the Milwaukee Bucks. It’s a must-win game for the Hornets if they want to advance to the knockout round of the tournament.