The Charlotte Hornets have shown the ability to compete with top-tier teams in the NBA. They still need more consistent efforts to prove they’re a playoff-worthy team.
Another chance to demonstrate that trait comes Friday night when the Utah Jazz visit.
After consecutive victories against the Indiana Pacers, Milwaukee Bucks and Miami Heat, the Hornets got off to a horrid start Wednesday in a 118-111 home loss to the Philadelphia 76ers. Going up against the Jazz offers a chance for some sort of redemption.
“These are playoff teams, and that’s somewhere that we want to be,” Hornets guard Devonte’ Graham said. “We’re trying to measure ourselves against them and come out and play to the best of our ability.”
The Jazz are another quality opponent. Utah romped 112-91 past the host Atlanta Hawks on Thursday night, winning for the 13th time in 14 games.
“We want to win every single game, but at the same time the goal is to keep getting better,” Jazz forward Rudy Gobert said. “When it’s playoff time, to be the best Utah Jazz team we can be.”
The stopover to face the Hornets will be the middle game of the Jazz’s three-game road swing.
Charlotte was without guard Terry Rozier (ankle sprain) and forward P.J. Washington (foot sprain), leading to a makeshift starting lineup against the 76ers. Rozier is listed as probable to return to action Friday, though it’s doubtful Washington will play.
“It’s tough not having those two guys,” coach James Borrego said. “It’s tough to evaluate our team as a whole.”
The ability to close the gap and make the game competitive was encouraging for the Hornets.
“Our guys kept battling. There’s a number of teams that would have given in right there,” Borrego said. “We did find a rhythm in the second half, and I did see a lot of growth.”
LaMelo Ball and Miles Bridges joined Charlotte’s starting lineup this week. Ball has made two starts in place of Rozier.
“They play off each other very nicely,” Borrego said. “They hit it off. Melo does that with a number of guys. … I see a connection there, no matter if they’re starting or coming off the bench together.”
Bridges said he takes responsibility for providing a spark regardless of his role.
“I felt I could have brought more energy,” he said. “We always think we have a chance to win. We’re always going to fight throughout the game.”
The Jazz have set numerous records regarding 3-point shooting this season. Utah connected on 20 or more 3-pointers in seven January games.
In the Thursday game, the Jazz were 13-for-27 on treys, with reserve Jordan Clarkson going 5-for-8 from deep. While the percentage was impressive, the output halted the team’s NBA-record streak of making at least 15 buckets from 3-point range in 11 consecutive games.
On the flip side, Utah holds one of the NBA’s best defensive rates against 3-point shooters, so the Hornets might have to be sharp with ball movement to find openings.
The Jazz have won their past five meetings with the Hornets. The teams haven’t played in more than a year, with Utah winning in January 2020 at Salt Lake City.
–Field Level Media