If you are looking for reasons that the Charlotte Hornets have raised themselves from the nearly dead in the final days of this NBA season, a good place to start is with Dwayne Bacon.
A little-used spare part for the majority of this season, Bacon has been thrown into the fire and is sizzling.
The second-year guard out of Florida State has had back-to-back career highs in the Hornets’ last two games – 20 points against Toronto Sunday, followed by 24 more against San Antonio on Tuesday.
“You be patient and your time will come,” Bacon said Tuesday after he hit the key three-pointer to put away the Spurs. “Right now is my time.”
Hornets coach James Borrego made a conscious effort to “play the kids” a few days ago, which you would think would mean the season was more or less over. On Tuesday night, for various reasons, the Hornets never played Nic Batum, Cody Zeller, Tony Parker or Michael Kidd-Gilchrist.
But the new lineup – which still features Kemba Walker in the starring role — has instead reeled off one win after another.
That means the Hornets (35-39) now sit only 1 1/2 games out of the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. They will likely need to go about 6-2 in their final eight games to pass both Miami and Orlando to get there.
But the chance of all that happening has gone from maybe 1 in a 1,000 to 1 in 5. Charlotte will try to improve those odds Friday night with a game on the road against the Los Angeles Lakers -- the first of a four-game road trip.
Bacon – built like an NFL strong safety at 6-7 and 221 pounds – has blossomed. After not playing a single second in 39 of the Hornets’ 74 games this season – “and of course, that’s going to be frustrating for someone who loves the game,” he said – Bacon has started four games in a row. The Hornets have won all four.
Said Borrego: “We believe in him. This is a guy that can get to the rim. He’s confident shooting the three ball right now. Defensively, he’s got his hands everywhere ... He can match up with Kawhi Leonard. That versatility is huge for us. When you put he and Miles [Bridges] out there, that’s a pretty good defensive lineup. So he’s been fantastic on both ends of the ball. But I just love his spirit right now. Just the confidence. It’s oozing.”
Walker put up 11 points in overtime against San Antonio Tuesday night, outscoring the Spurs all by himself. But when Bacon tried to hand the all-star point guard the ball on one offensive possession, Walker waved him off. He was too tired.
So Bacon kept the ball and tried to drive. That didn’t work. Instead, he buried a three-pointer that put the Hornets up by seven points and clinched the game.
“I’m super happy for him,” Walker said of Bacon. “He deserves it. He never complains about minutes.”
The No. 40 overall pick in the 2017 draft, Bacon has played so little this season that the Hornets have frequently told him to go play for their G League team, the Greensboro Swarm, to keep sharp.
Bacon and rookie point guard Devonte Graham have gotten to know Interstate 85 very well. They would frequently make the 90-mile drive together to Greensboro, play the game, and then drive back. Bacon has played in 17 games for the Swarm this season, in addition to the 35 he’s played for Charlotte.
The temporary Greensboro assignments didn’t bother Bacon. He gets to shoot a lot – he has averaged 22 points in those G League contests – and says they “kept me motivated.” They also allowed him to work on his three-point shot.
In today’s NBA, Bacon is a bit of an anomaly – a wing who prefers to drive instead of shooting three-pointers. But the Hornets have told him over and over he must shoot more threes.
“They beat it into me to just shoot it,” said Bacon, who has made half of his 54 three-point attempts this season. “Usually, I wasn’t a guy who takes a lot of threes. I love to drive and get to the basket. Stuff like that is so easy for me … But they keep saying, ‘Keep shooting, keep shooting, no matter what!’ They get hot if I don’t.”
Right now, though, Bacon is the one who’s hot. And if the Hornets manage to sneak into these playoffs, he will be a big reason why.