The Charlotte Hornets lost their first home game of the season Friday night, falling 109-93 to Houston. The defeat dropped the Hornets to 2-3 during a season that has been an elevator of ups and downs thus far. After five games, here are four problems the Hornets need to work on during this young season.
▪ Dwight Howard’s free-throw shooting: Every aspect of Howard but one has been outstanding through his first five games in Charlotte. He entered the game second in the NBA in rebounding. Then he had 16 rebounds vs. Houston, meaning he became the first NBA player since Charles Barkley in 1998-99 to start a season with five games of 15 or more rebounds. Howard also had 19 points Friday and was an efficient defender.
But Howard’s free-throw percentage wouldn’t be good for a middle-school team. After going 5-for-15 from the line Friday, Howard is now 16-for-45 for the season – 35.5 percent.
In his 13-year NBA career, Howard has made 56.6 percent of his free throws, so the Hornets hope this is just an anomaly.
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“It’s early in the year,” Hornets coach Steve Clifford said of Howard’s problems at the line. “He’ll get into a rhythm.... If he can shoot 65 (percent) for the year, we’re in good shape.... I believe in him. I think it will be fine.”
I can tell you that 65 percent isn’t going to be happening. But surely Howard can work toward his career percentage – he’s leaving a lot of points on the floor and daring teams to use the Hack-a-Dwight strategy.
▪ Bench bottoming out: This was a primary problem last season, and it has reared its head once again at times this year. Rookies Malik Monk and Dwayne Bacon both had minus-19 ratios in the plus-minus category Friday, meaning the Hornets were outscored by 19 points when those two were in the game.
Frank Kaminsky’s ratio was even worse, at minus-23, as a three-game scoring hot streak for Kaminsky came to an end. Bacon shot 0-for-6 and only scored a single point Friday, while Monk had 10 points but took nine shots to do it. The Hornets’ two draft choices are getting big minutes early in the season, in part due to several injuries, and have been on and off in taking advantage of those minutes.
▪ Three-point defensive woes: Houston took an astonishing 57 3-pointers Friday night – and tried only 28 2-pointers. Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni quipped that his team should have shot 60 treys since it passed up a couple of open 3s (the NBA record for attempts is 61).
As it was, 67 percent of the Rockets’ shots were from 3-point land, and they made 22 treys overall.
That meant Houston – led by James Harden’s triple-double of 27 points, 11 assists and 10 rebounds – outscored the Hornets by 33 points from the 3-point line. The Rockets set records for most 3-pointers ever attempted and ever made against any Charlotte team.
“They really backed away,” D’Antoni said, “and they are a very good defensive team. That’s what was left open tonight.”
▪ Getting healthy: Charlotte was short-handed, missing rotation players Nic Batum, Cody Zeller and two backup point guards due to injuries. But that was really not much of an excuse Friday because Houston did not have all-star point guard Chris Paul, who is nursing a bruised knee and was riding an exercise bike in a hallway before the game.