This wasn’t a victory but it sure had the appearance of progress.
The Charlotte Hornets lost their 10th straight game Wednesday, 102-95, to the Chicago Bulls. But they weren’t pushed around, they don’t sound deflated, and they did some things they can build on Friday against the similarly struggling New York Knicks.
“I’m loving the fact that we’re still fighting, we still have hope,” said point guard Kemba Walker, who finished with 23 points and four assists. “Games like this are going to help us. It will come through.”
It needs to come through sooner rather than later.
The schedule has been brutal; entering Wednesday’s game the collective winning percentage of the teams the Hornets have played was .552, third-highest in the NBA behind the Sacramento Kings (.602) and the Los Angeles Lakers (.580).
Wednesday they played well enough to beat many teams, just not the Bulls (12-7), which won their its 10th game on the road this season.
“We played good but down the stretch too many mistakes. We’ve got to learn, but we’re staying positive,” said Walker, who scored 17 in the third quarter after the Bulls took a 13-point lead.
The Hornets briefly led in the fourth, but the Bulls went on an 8-0 run, never relinquishing the lead.
It was an impressive finish by a team that lost in double-overtime Tuesday to the Dallas Mavericks.
“With great teams like Chicago, when you make mistakes they always capitalize,” Walker said.
The Bulls did so in the final period with exceptional 3-point shooting. They were 5 of 8 from beyond the arc, with reserve guard Kirk Hinrich making 2 of 3.
Hinrich made the key play of the game with 31/2 minutes left. Walker stole the ball and then missed a layup. Hinrich raced to the opposite baseline where Derrick Rose found him for a 25-foot jump shot that spread Chicago’s lead to eight.
The Bulls ended up shooting 12 of 28 from 3-point range compared to 2 of 15 for the Hornets.
“The obvious difference in this game was 3-point shooting,” Hornets coach Steve Clifford said. “Hinrich made the big one to go from five to eight.
“We played hard, we did some good things, but we didn’t do enough to win,” Clifford said. “The effort hasn’t been a problem.”
One of the promising things was the improved play of newcomer Lance Stephenson. He scored a season-high 20 points on 9-of-18 shooting.
Stephenson’s shots came naturally, which often hasn’t been the case. He was particularly effective in transition, creating several fast-break layups.
“He was great,” Walker said. “The best thing about him, he was super-positive, talking with everybody.
“We need his energy. He always makes the right plays. We’ve got to try our best to keep him like that – get him the ball in transition. We do that and it will be great the rest of the season.”
Stephenson sounded relieved at how smoothly his offense came.
“I get easy points when I run the floor,” Stephenson said. “We need those easy buckets – just play through that.”