A quarter of the way into the 21-22 NBA season and the Charlotte Hornets are staring down the reality of a top-four finish in the Eastern Conference by season’s end.
The thought of a high seeding had begun slipping away for the Hornets who had an impressive start to the season, going 5-2 in games in October – including a win in Brooklyn – but the wheels fell off in November as the team struggled, losing five in a row including losses out West to Golden State, both Los Angeles teams and Sacramento.
Behind their young stars like LaMelo Ball, Mile Bridges, and Kelly Oubre Jr, however, the team has rejuvenated their season.
Following the team’s dismantling of Anthony Edwards and the Minnesota Timberwolves on Friday night, the Hornets find themselves on a three-game winning streak and have won eight-of-nine overall to surge up to fifth place in the East at 13-8.
During this stretch, they’ve beaten both Washington and Golden State respectively when they were atop their respective conferences.
At the beginning of the season, the Hornets were winning games due to their offense, but during this current win streak, head coach James Borrego believes it’s the defense that is driving wins.
“I think we’ve gotten better the last 10 games,” Borrego said. “I think our defense has turned. We’ve shown what we are a capable defensive team, and I think in the last 10 games we’ve been a top-10 defense and that’s the goal, is to maintain that. Every night, when we are the aggressive team and we are defending, we are capable of winning every single night.”
To highlight that fact, it’s worth noting that in the win against the league-leading Warriors, the Hornets held them to 102 points – their second-lowest scoring total of the season.
Kelly Oubre Jr. drains 7 3PM and the @hornets knock down 23 3PM to tie the franchise record in their big home win!
Kelly Oubre Jr.: 27 PTS, 7 3PM
Miles Bridges: 18 PTS, 7 REB, 3 3PM
Gordon Hayward: 18 PTS, 6 REB, 6 AST, 3 BLK
LaMelo Ball: 10 PTS, 6 REB, 13 AST pic.twitter.com/pMjBgRhgoO
— NBA (@NBA) November 27, 2021
The Hornets will now travel to Houston to face the 2-16 Rockets before the Ball brothers go head-to-head on Monday in Chicago. This will precede games against the Bucks, Hawks, and a home-and-away series against the Philadelphia 76ers, who could see Joel Embiid return to the line-up.
The Hornets are looking to reach the playoffs for the first time since the 2015-16 season. Over the course of this current season, the Hornets are ranked 21st in defensive rating, but during this nine-game span, they are ranked fourth.
They are ranked ninth in offensive rating, and if they can just get both clicking together along with luck on the injuries front, this finally might be the year they make the postseason.