The Charlotte Hornets have limped into the All-Star break – losing 11 out of their last 14 games. Charlotte was 28-22 and on the cusp of being in the top six in the Eastern Conference, but now they’re are in danger of even making the playoffs’ play-in game. This is James Borrego’s fourth season with the Hornets and in those four seasons his best record is 39-43. The 2020 season was cut short with the Hornets finishing 23-42. Last year Charlotte was as high as fourth in the East, but faced injuries and Covid issues. Even when most of the team returned to the court, the Hornets limped through the end of the season and got obliterated in a play-in game by an Indiana Pacers team that didn’t have some of their key players. Without Myles Turner and TJ Warren the Pacers beat the Hornets by 27 and were up by as many as 39 points. The Hornets looked uninspired and ill-prepared.
Charlotte started off this season well, going 5-2 with wins over Cleveland and Brooklyn – both playoff teams. The Hornets went on a long West Coast trip early in the season, but returned and won eight of their next nine games – including a win over the Golden State Warriors. December was a tough month as Covid ravaged the team, but a win at Denver got the Hornets back on track. Charlotte won three straight games to end 2021 at 19-17. After two tough losses the Hornets won nine of their next 12 games to surge to 28-22.
A blowout loss to the Clippers started a run where Charlotte would lose eight out of their next nine games. During that stretch the Hornets had a tough loss in Boston where LaMelo Ball had a career high 38 points, but with the game on the line the Hornets ran a set for PJ Washington where his shot was blocked by Robert Williams. They nearly had a comeback vs Cleveland, but the refs missed a clear foul on Gordon Hayward on a rebound attempt and Kevin Love made two free throws to win the game. The next night, against Miami, James Bouknight had a blow up with Borrego after being subbed in for 14 seconds then taken out. Bouk had to be sent back to the locker room. Most recently, the Hornets suffered two tough overtime losses in back-to-back games where they had the lead in the fourth quarter, but the offense stalled out and lost in the extra period.
The Hornets are 0-6 in overtime games this season. Statistically, Charlotte is one of the better offenses in the NBA, but there are times late in games where offense has little ball movement and looks disjointed. When their offense breaks down the Hornets haven’t been able to get the defensive stops needed to close out games. In the four years of Borrego’s tenure as head coach the Hornets have been 23rd, 25th, 16th, and are currently 23rd in defensive ratings.
Another gripe fans have had are the questionable rotations – the latest example being JT Thor, who almost sparked a comeback versus the Memphis Grizzlies, only playing 11 minutes the next game. Many have also wanted to see more of James Bouknight – who has played well at times, but also shown rookie growing pains. Bouknight is a great talent who has had a frustrating season, which boiled over with the incident against the Heat. There have been many games when Charlotte has only gone eight deep with their rotation. That’s fine at times, but you risk wearing your team out. Charlotte’s offense has gotten worse in the last nine games; they are 26th out of 30 in offensive rating and have struggling from behind the arc. Yes the Hornets have played good teams during this stretch, but is fatigue setting in?
With only 22 games left in this season the Hornets are only one game away from missing the play-in tournament. If Charlotte doesn’t make the post-season it will be a huge disappointment and someone will need to be held accountable. In professional basketball it’s often the head coach. With LaMelo Ball being named an NBA All-Star and Miles Bridges playing at an All-Star level, the Hornets and their fans can’t settle for not making the play-in tournament…and based on the way this team played at times this season just getting to the play-in shouldn’t be enough either.
Borrego has never finished above .500 during his time in Charlotte. I don’t know many coaches who have been brought back after four straight losing seasons. To get to .500 Charlotte would need to win 12 of their next 22 games. If the Hornets finish below .500 and miss the play-in tournament it will be a hard sell the fan base on bringing Borrego back next season.