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Charlotte Hornets wrapup: Monday night’s game vs. Houston Rockets

By Richard Walker

Notes and observations from Monday’s 119-94 Hornets’ home win over the Houston Rockets that improved Charlotte to 12-13 overall:

… Charlotte not only won its second straight game, it won its second straight game by 20 or more points for the first time since ths 2016-17 season and used a suffocating defensive effort to do it. “This is a fun group,” said Hornets coach James Borrego, whose team outscored the Rockets 29-7 in the fourth quarter to break open a close game. “I love coaching them. I love being their head coach. They inspire me. I love the joy they play with, the unselfishness and the spirit that they have even when things aren’t going well.”

… The Hornets, who routed Washington 119-97 on Sunday afternoon, haven’t won two straight games by 20 or more points since they beat Portland 107-85 on Jan. 18, 2017 and Toronto 113-78 on Jan. 20, 2017.

… Rookie LaMelo Ball was the star with 24 points, seven rebounds and 10 assists. Twenty-one of his 24 points came on a franchise-record-tying seven 3-pointers. Borrego admitted that he was worried about Ball’s shooting motion when he first scouted Ball. “There was concern on my part, watching him and obviously, not knowing the kid and not being around to evaluate him,” Borrego said. “When we went to Los Angeles to interview him and watch him, there was just a confidence about his shot. I sat there with (Hornets general manager) Mitch (Kupchak) and looked over at him and said, ‘He’s going to be fine.’ The kid uses confidence, he knows it’s going in and that’s at least half the battle in this thing.”

… Ball has now his 21 of his last 40 3-pointers. “I always believed I could shoot,” Ball said. “I always felt I could shoot. So, I was pretty much just working on my game (through the draft process). Then when they (Hornets) came, it was pretty much like another workout and they saw me working on my game and making shots and that’s how it went.”

… Gordon Hayward (19 points), Miles Bridges (19 points, 10 rebounds), Terry Rozier (15 points), Malik Monk (14 points) and Cody Zeller (10 points, 7 rebounds) also were big contributors in a win that came without starting guard Devonte’ Graham (left groin strain). “Pretty much we are all locking in, bringing a lot of energy,” Monk said of the Hornets’ defense. “The first three quarters we didn’t really get it how we wanted to be. The coaches wanted more stops, and in the fourth quarter, we all just locked in and that’s how it happened.”

… How impressive was Charlotte’s fourth quarter defense? The Rockets missed their first 10 field goal attempts of the fourth quarter as Charlotte’s lead grew from 90-87 to 109-88.

… First-year Rockets coach Stephen Silas was in Charlotte for the first time as a rival head coach; He filled in as head coach during his two tenures as a Hornets’ assistant from 2000 to 2002 and 2010 to 2018). “It feels different,” said Silas, whose parents Paul and Carolyn Silas weren’t able to come to the game due to COVID-19 protocols. “It doesn’t feel as good as it would if my parents were sitting in their normal seats because they come to every Hornets game when there’s fans because they actually sit directly behind the Hornets bench. There’s a lot of friends and family that I have here in Charlotte that I wish I could see and wish I could share this moment with. I look into the rafters and see Bobby Phills’ jersey hanging and it’s a reminder of him because I was here when he was here, but also his family: Kendall, his wife, Trey Phills and Kerstie Phills, who I wish I could see on this trip, but I can’t. To answer your question, it would be a lot better to have fans in the stands. But I totally get it. I don’t want it to see like it’s sour grapes or like I’m in this horrible position because I’m in a great position – I’m the head coach of the Rockets and it’s awesome. It just would be cool if there were fans in the stands and if my parents were here.” (Silas’ father Paul was a former Hornets head coach and Stephen Silas married the late Bobby Phills’ sister-in-law.)

What’s next: Charlotte visits Memphis on Wednesday at 8 p.m. It’s the second meeting of the season between the teams; Memphis won 108-93 in Charlotte on Jan. 1.