The Charlotte Hornets showed that they can compete against top teams. Now it’s a matter of doing so against every team.
The next test comes Tuesday night against the visiting San Antonio Spurs.
“We’re trending the right way,” Hornets coach James Borrego said. “I think we’re heading in the right direction. … We have a nice base right now. We have to keep it growing.”
Charlotte defeated the defending NBA champion Toronto Raptors on Friday night and followed that two days later by sticking with the Milwaukee Bucks, who hold the league’s best record, until the final minutes in a 93-85 loss.
“We have a group that has bought in,” Borrego said. “Developing, want to get better, care about each other. I can live with that every day. Obviously, we have to get better from here, but I’m really excited with where we’re at.”
San Antonio is coming off a 116-111 home loss to the Indiana Pacers on Monday night.
The Spurs are in a regrouping mode in terms of their roster. Center Jakob Poeltl departed a Saturday home win over the Orlando Magic due to a bruised knee, and he is expected to miss at least two weeks. He is averaging 5.3 points and 5.3 rebounds per game.
Adding to the roster uncertainty is the status of San Antonio center LaMarcus Aldridge, who has missed the past three games due to a sore shoulder. Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said Aldridge will be out for the Charlotte game as well.
The Spurs have had to go to a smaller lineup, and at times that has been rewarding.
“It worked out for us,” Popovich said.
Yet the situation does mean increased responsibilities for other San Antonio players.
“I just have to be more aggressive,” Spurs forward Trey Lyles said. “Just rebound, play solid defense and stuff like that.”
Lyles provided 20 points Monday night, and Patty Mills scored a team-high 24 off the bench. Five other San Antonio players scored in double figures, and the Spurs shot 51.9 percent from the floor, but the Pacers hit 50.6 percent of their free-throw attempts and had an eight-point edge in scoring from the foul line.
The Hornets have struggled at times at the defensive end, but despite allowing 41 points to Giannis Antetokounmpo, they held the Bucks to fewer than 100 points. It was the first time that happened to Milwaukee this season, though the Bucks subsequently scored just 89 in a Monday loss at Miami.
“Our personnel, our attention to detail and the pride we’re taking on the defensive end is giving us a shot every night,” Borrego said. “I thought we made them work for everything, and we made them work every possession. It’s important for our guys to know it starts on the defensive end for us.”
Borrego said the bench players have added to the team’s defensive depth, and he views that as a reason for the better play for longer periods at that end of the court.
The Hornets are seeing some options offensively evolve, particularly since last week’s suspension of reserve guard Malik Monk, whose role had been increasing.
Cody Martin has added to the play-making possibilities for the Hornets.
“I think he’s someone stepping into that role,” Borrego said. “Taking pressure off (Devonte’ Graham and Terry Rozier).”
The Spurs defeated the Hornets 114-90 in a Feb. 1 matchup in San Antonio behind DeMar DeRozan’s 24 points and six assists. Miles Bridges scored a game-high 25 points for Charlotte.
The Tuesday contest will be Charlotte’s second game of a four-game homestand. San Antonio is beginning a three-game road trip.
–Field Level Media