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Trail Blazers put solid start against struggling Hornets

Sportsnaut
Nov 7, 2022; Miami, Florida, USA; Portland Trail Blazers guard Josh Hart (11) celebrates the game winning basket with team mates against the Miami Heat during the fourth quarter at FTX Arena. Mandatory Credit: Rich Storry-USA TODAY Sports
Credit: Rich Storry-USA TODAY Sports

Frustrations are building for the Charlotte Hornets, and positive feelings might be the defining trait for the Portland Trail Blazers.

Just a few weeks into the NBA season, trends might be emerging.

It seems like a crucial time for the Hornets, while the Blazers will try to build more momentum on an East Coast swing when the teams meet Wednesday night at Charlotte, N.C.

It’s not just defeating the Miami Heat on Monday night that gives the Trail Blazers a spark. The win came with a second-half rally capped by Josh Hart’s winning 3-point basket as time expired in the 110-107 outcome.

“Keep grinding and keep grinding,” Portland coach Chauncey Billups said. “That’s kind of who we are now. To have a fourth quarter the way we had … one of the best quarters we’ve had all year.”

The Blazers’ momentum probably isn’t a good sign for the Hornets, who faded down the stretch in their most recent game.

“That’s one thing about this team,” said Hart, who is making contributions to the best 10-game start in Portland since the 2018-19 season. “We’re going to fight and we’re going to be gritty.”

Charlotte hopes to avoid a winless three-game homestand.

“We’re still together. We just know there’s another level we can get to, and that’s the light at the end of the tunnel,” guard Kelly Oubre Jr. said. “We’re going to continue to work, we’re going to continue to fight, and everything is going to turn around.”

The Hornets, mired in a five-game losing streak, can’t seem to figure out which area must be addressed the most.

“We shouldn’t lose five in a row,” forward PJ Washington said. “We’ve just got to be better, period.”

The Hornets’ offensive shortcomings have become the culprit for much of the skid, while defensive snags surfaced prominently in a 108-100 home loss to the Washington Wizards on Monday.

“I thought our second-half defense was the biggest problem,” Hornets coach Steve Clifford said.

The offensive flow has wavered at times. There were enough positive elements to win some games.

“I actually thought when you get 70 points in the paint, you’re shooting the ball well,” Clifford said.

Charlotte’s injury woes have contributed to the situation. Point guard LaMelo Ball still has not played this season because of an ankle injury but is getting close to a return. Dennis Smith Jr. has started nine of 11 games at point guard but is dealing with an ankle issue also.

The Hornets launched 32 shots from 3-point range in Monday’s loss to the Wizards but made only five of those. They are among the bottom half of teams in the league by shooting 33.9 percent from 3-point range.

Charlotte won’t be able to let down its attention defensively against the Trail Blazers, who have shown an early knack of pulling out close games. In a four-night span, they had two buzzer-beating victories.

“I think we’re just giving the effort and energy defensively to stop teams, and that has been a major difference for us,” said Blazers standout Damian Lillard, who is averaging a team-best 29 points per game and just returned from a four-game absence because of a calf strain.

–Field Level Media