After that brutal road loss in Washington Saturday, giving up 130 points to a bad and injury-depleted Wizards team, the Charlotte Hornets sure could use a pick-me-up.
Monday’s opponent, the Orlando Magic, fits the profile. The Hornets have beaten the Magic 12 games in a row, the third-longest active streak among the 30 NBA teams. Only the Oklahoma City Thunder over the Philadelphia 76ers (18 games) and the Golden State Warriors over the Phoenix Suns (16) is longer.
The Hornets and Magic played in Orlando the second game of this season, and that result reflected the Hornets’ dominance in this series: The Hornets won by 32 points, their largest margin of victory this season (matched by a home win over the Cleveland Cavaliers).
The Magic last beat the Hornets Dec. 16, 2015, in Orlando 113-98. The first 11 of those consecutive Hornets victories were coached by, ironically enough, Steve Clifford, who is now Magic coach. Clifford coaches in Charlotte today for the first time since he was fired by the Hornets last spring.
Some quick facts on this remarkable streak:
The average margin of victory is huge at 16.8 points per game. That, despite it taking overtime to win the first game of the streak, 120-116 in Orlando in January of 2016.
The previous longest head-to-head winning streak for the Hornets was over the Detroit Pistons; 11 games between April of 1993 and December of 1995.
Based on the cumulative statistics of the streak, the biggest difference has been at the 3-point line: The Hornets shooting 39.3 percent from the arc, compared to the Magic’s 32.2 percent.
The other significant statistical gap has been rebounding: An average of 50.4 for the Hornets to 40.1 for the Magic.
Three Magic coaches -- Scott Skiles, Frank Vogel and Clifford -- have lost games during the current streak. The last Orlando coach not to be part of this losing streak? Hornets coach James Borrego (who was interim coach in Orlando the last three months of the 2014-15 season after his boss, Jacque Vaughn, was fired).
250 lineups and counting
Borrego has drawn a lot of attention in his first 30-some games as Hornets coach for all the different lineups he has tried. He’s already had 250 five-man player combinations on the court.
Every one of the 13 players on guaranteed contract has played significant minutes in multiple games. The most recent experiment was playing the three point guards -- veterans Kemba Walker and Tony Parker, plus second-round rookie Devonte Graham -- in response to the Brooklyn Nets going heavily with zone defense Friday.
Additionally, the team’s last two lottery picks -- Malik Monk and Miles Bridges -- have fluctuated from heavy minutes to not playing at all.
Borrego talked about his approach to player rotations pre-game Saturday in Washington.
“Our starters have been consistent (33 of 35 games the same, the other two caused by injury). I know people want to talk about our rotations, but we’ve started the (same) group for the most part. There are a couple of spots where night-to-night you never know what we’re doing,” Borrego said.
“Would I like to have a consistent rotation? Yeah. We’re just not there right now. Today is not the day to have a consistent rotation, but we’ll get there someday and we’re building towards that.”
Borrego said some of his incentive for all this variety is the Hornets’ roster situation and some is the approach to playing time he saw succeed when he was an assistant with the San Antonio Spurs. He said he doesn’t sense that the players feel in the dark about their roles.
“You communicate with them so they know where they stand with you. All guys I’ve been fair with in the sense that I’ve called on all of them. I haven’t said, ‘You’re (permanently) in the rotation, and you’re out.’ Every player has had an opportunity to play on this team,” Borrego said. “That doesn’t happen everywhere and I’m not saying that would be right for every team. Right now with our group, with our bench, they’ve all got to stay ready. That’s all I can tell them.
“It isn’t anything that is new to me. I have been with an organization (Spurs) that has won NBA championships and had this mentality. This isn’t some mystery. I’m looking for the right combination every single night. Sometimes it calls for ‘X’ and sometimes it calls for ‘Y’ It’s my job to adapt to what the game calls for.”