Over the course of Friday’s matchup with the Chicago Bulls, Charlotte Hornets small forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist was asked to guard a point guard, a shooting guard a small forward and a power forward.
What was his toughest matchup?
“Ain’t hard to guard anybody except Kemba Walker in practice,” Kidd-Gilchrist joked within earshot of teammate Walker’s locker stall.
Friday’s 101-91 home victory over the Bulls was illustrative of how box scores simply can’t convey how important Kidd-Gilchrist is to the Hornets this season. The numbers – 13 points, seven rebounds, three steals and two blocked shots – fall short of conveying all the ways he was a factor in a 37-point turnaround in this game.
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The Bulls led 38-19 a minute into the second quarter, having hit seven of their first eight 3-point attempts. Compare that to the second half when the Bulls totaled 31 points.
That’s when Hornets coach Steve Clifford switched Kidd-Gilchrist on to Chicago point guard Aaron Brooks, who had totaled 15 points and four assists in the first half.
Brooks’ second half: Nine points on 3-of-7 shooting and zero assists. As a team the Bulls shot 10-of-39 after halftime.
“It’s great to have a player who can do that,” Hornets shooting guard Gerald Henderson (20 points, seven rebounds) said of Kidd-Gilchrist. “He’s special in that he can get down in a stance and guard a whole lot of guys.
“He takes it as a challenge,” Henderson said of Kidd-Gilchrist’s defensive versatility. “You have to embrace that.”
Kidd-Gilchrist, strong, lanky and rugged at 6-foot-7, says he’s glad Clifford has the faith to plug him into the lineup in so many ways.
“That’s just who I am,” he said. “I don’t care who I guard just as long as we win.”
This victory broke a two-game losing streak, improving the Hornets to 29-35. Combined with the Miami Heat’s loss to the Toronto Raptors, the Hornets moved back into eighth-place in the Eastern Conference, a half-game ahead of the Heat.
Initially the Hornets looked ominously similar to their performances in home losses to the Washington Wizards and Sacramento Kings: Flat and lacking the right defensive focus.
Some of that was Chicago making so many 3-pointers, but the Hornets had to reacquaint themselves with the defense that had them looking so good in January.
“We have a lot of guys who have good defensive instincts when we’re tied together,” Henderson said. “We’ve got to play to our strengths and help others play to their strengths.”
The Hornets played Friday without their starters at center (Al Jefferson, right knee strain) and power forward Cody Zeller (right shoulder sprain). That made Bismack Biyombo and Marvin Williams the starters versus a formidable Bulls pairing of Pau Gasol and Joakim Noah.
Gasol had 18 points and eight rebounds, but Noah finished with just one point and six rebounds. Biyombo and his backup, veteran Jason Maxiell, combined for 20 points and 17 rebounds.
“We watched film and saw a lot of mistakes,” Biyombo said of the last two losses. “We’ve got to limit those mistakes and play better defense.”
That happened Friday and just in time: Had the Hornets not staged this comeback they would have flown to Salt Lake City to start a daunting five-game road trip on a three-game losing streak.
Bonnell: 704-358-5129; Twitter: @rick_bonnell