PREVIEW: Charlotte Hornets host Houston Rockets with chance for rare consecutive wins in series

Feb 7, 2021; Charlotte, North Carolina, USA; Charlotte Hornets guard Terry Rozier (3) drives around Washington Wizards guard Ish Smith in the second half at Spectrum Center. The Charlotte Hornets won 119-97. Mandatory Credit: Nell Redmond-USA TODAY Sports

Charlotte coach James Borrego seemed sincerely surprised upon learning on Sunday that the Hornets improved to 9-0 this season when entering the fourth quarter with the lead following their 22-point victory over the Washington Wizards at the Spectrum Center.

But upon further reflection, the statistical note made sense to Borrego.

The Hornets’ 119-97 win over Washington featured a praise-worthy effort from Terry Rozier, who assumed additional play-making duties with Devonte Graham (groin) sidelined and seven players grabbing at least five rebounds. It also featured another strong showing from guard LaMelo Ball, who burnished his Eastern Conference Rookie of the Month honors with 19 points, seven rebounds and five assists.

Related: If you’re a fan of the Hornets, check out #AllFly rumors, rankings, and news here.

The Hornets, who will host the Houston Rockets on Monday in the second game of a back-to-back, have made strides despite being one of the younger teams in the league. Their rapid development sheds some light on their ability to perform when the stakes are highest.

“When it’s close, when we’re tight in the fourth quarter, we’re coming out on the right side of this thing,” Borrego said. “For whatever reason, we execute in the fourth. It’s tight, we get good shots, we execute defensively. We’ve been one of the better closing teams in this league and that’s not easy to do.

“I’m not going to sugarcoat it: that’s a heck of a job by a young team for us to be able to close out these games in the fourth quarter.”

Charlotte, 3-3 in the second half of back-to-back games including 3-0 at home, won its last matchup with the Rockets to snap a seven-game losing skid in the series. Still, the Hornets have dropped 16 of the last 18 meetings against Houston, and while the Rockets will be without their leading scorer and rebounder in Christian Wood (ankle), the challenge for Charlotte remains stiff.

But the Hornets have repeatedly shown an ability to recover from setbacks. Their dismantling of Washington was just the latest example of a team seemingly on the rise.

“Last game, we played a very good Utah team,” Borrego said. “Our second half that game was a good second half and we built on that. We found some rhythm and there were some positives that came out of that second half. I wanted to carry that momentum over into this game. I’ve seen growth even though we didn’t win those last two games.”

Wood (22 points, 10.2 rebounds) suffered a right ankle sprain last Thursday against Memphis and will be sidelined for an undetermined number of games. Houston went 3-0 without Wood when he sustained an ankle sprain in late January but needed 52 bench points to stay within striking distance in a 111-106 loss to the San Antonio Spurs on Saturday.

Related: If you’re a fan of the Rockets, check out #RocketUp rumors, rankings, and news here

The Rockets know what needs to be done without Wood. Executing that plan is the difficult part.

“Without Christian in the starting lineup, we’re going to have to figure out ways to score,” Rockets coach Stephen Silas said. “We’re missing basically 20 points out of our lineup. For those guys to step up off our bench was huge but moving forward we really are going to have to concentrate on figuring out ways (to score).

“Christian kind of makes it look easy out there the way he scores with no play calls: rolls to the rim, dunks, 3s, a little bit of everything. We have to figure that out.”

–Field Level Media