Charlotte Hornets beat the 76ers, ending a 16-game losing streak

Charlotte Hornets' Miles Bridges, left, heads for the basket against Philadelphia 76ers' Tobias Harris, right, during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Wednesday, Jan. 12, 2022, in Philadelphia.  (AP Photo/Chris Szagola)

Charlotte Hornets’ Miles Bridges, left, heads for the basket against Philadelphia 76ers’ Tobias Harris, right, during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Wednesday, Jan. 12, 2022, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Chris Szagola)

PA

The signs were already there.

Even before the Charlotte Hornets finally got that King Kong-sized gorilla on Wednesday night, the metrics had been slowly rising during this difficult COVID-19 season. A sprinkling of impressive wins scattered throughout one of the most anticipated campaigns in recent memory provided the slightest taste, feeling like that initial straw when a body craves to be quenched.

But then came the last five days. It didn’t matter that the Hornets were looking at a daunting schedule that required them to face the defending NBA champions twice in 72 hours, followed by a road date with the team that was basically like a big brother. bully – holding them by the collar while they are helpless to do anything about it.

Sweeping all three games, punctuated by holding Philadelphia, 109-98, at the Wells Fargo Center on Wednesday night on the heels of their spirited loss to Milwaukee is the latest indicator that these Hornets need to be taken seriously. These aren’t the guys in purple and teal of yesteryear. These are the kind of games that build serious character for a young team, rushing through the city of brotherly love and staring straight in the eye at an opponent who had beaten them 16 times in a row and was riding a six-game winning streak. consecutive streaks that elevated them in the confusing Eastern Conference standings.

“Well, it shows growth,” said Miles Bridges, who helped them close it out with a strong fourth quarter. “We’ve beaten the defending champions twice and coming in and getting a really controlled win here, that says a lot about this group of guys. So we just want to keep improving, just learn from this game and keep going.

Where this band currently rows represents waters that the franchise hasn’t navigated in quite a while. The Hornets (23-19) post their best record in 41 games in more than two decades. The last time they were three games over .500 at the halfway mark was in the 2000-01 season, when they were 23-18.

Let’s take a look at the Hornets’ record over the past three midterm seasons: In 2018-19, their last season with Kemba Walker leading, they were 19-22 (.463 winning percentage). Fast forward to 2019-20, which was the first year of their roster restructuring, and they posted a 16-25 (.390) record before registering an 18-18 mark a year ago. in the shortened 72-game campaign.

But this season, climbing to their best record at this point since the days immediately following the Y2K frenzy, the Hornets responded in a way they hadn’t before. It didn’t matter if they were without their top reserve for a second game in a row due to COVID protocols or if their offense couldn’t fully get going early, requiring a jaw-dropping display from Gordon Hayward to secure a cushion. 14 points before the locker room at halftime.

A searing 15-point opening quarterback by Hayward was the medicine needed to get them started, and his perfect 9-on-9 production in the first half propelled him to become the fourth player in team history. since 1996-97 to show 20 or more. points in the first 24 minutes of the game without a miss.

Some of the names Hayward has joined with his jaw-dropping shooting display indicate how long it’s been since the Hornets have seen sustained success. Anthony Mason, Baron Davis, Glen Rice and Al Jefferson all appear on similar lists that Hayward jumped on board thanks to the 76ers toast.

“I saw a couple come in early,” Hayward said. “All credit goes to my teammates for finding me. We played that way where we were attacking the paint and making the right pass. I had a few easy looks so I was able to knock them down. More than anything, I thank my teammates.

There are plenty of games left. A flurry of things are sure to come over the next few months. A stalemate that engulfs most of the conference standings right now, proving the East is as tough as it has been in a while. Here are the Hornets, winners of four straight and seven of their last nine, having one of their best starts — and best overall streaks — in years and they currently can’t climb higher than seventh place.

“I keep preaching this to guys, I have to stay in the moment too,” coach James Borrego said. “We are human beings. So you’re going to drift over there at some point. But the focus must remain on the day, the present, the present moment. Without even worrying about the game (Monday) against Milwaukee, without worrying about the next game at the Spectrum Center (Friday).

“That’s how you grow and that’s how you improve. It’s hard and it’s not easy to do. Young teams, veteran tams, they want to look ahead. They want to go to the end of the season. … The wins will take care of themselves, the rankings will continue to take care of themselves if we continue to grow and improve, especially on the defensive side.

Improving their rating on this side of the ball, which has gradually improved to 26th in the league at 112.9 after being ranked dead last for most of the first three months, remains a must.

“Yeah, I think that’s our next level,” Borrego said. “I think that’s what takes us to the next level, that’s our physicality. We want to become a more physical and defensive team in the future. The offense is in place. We have to keep moving forward. before, obviously, keep growing offensively. But for us to turn and keep climbing here in the East, it’s going to come defensively. Can we get more physical?

“It’s a one-on-one defence, it’s a back-up defence. We are doing a better job on the rim recently. So limiting shots to the rim, and when it gets there, affecting their shots to the rim. And then bouncing the ball is all physical. We just have to hit people, bounce back and figure it out somehow. But you boil it down to one thing I would say – physicality.

This story was originally published January 12, 2022 11:53 p.m.

Roderick Boone joined the Observer in September 2021 to cover the Charlotte Hornets and the NBA. In his more than two decades of sports writing, he’s covered everything from a high school rodeo to a Major League Baseball no-hitter, from the Super Bowl to the Finals. The Long Island native has deep roots in North Carolina and enjoys watching “The Fresh Prince of Bel Air” endlessly.
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