Charlotte Hornets wrapup: Saturday’s road game vs. New York Knicks

By Richard Walker

Notes and observations from Saturday’s 118-109 Hornets’ overtime road loss to the New York Knicks that dropped Charlotte to 33-38 overall:

… It comes to Sunday’s regular season finale at Washington. Charlotte will again be in a situation where a win ensures the No. 8 playoff seed and a Tuesday play-in game at the Boston Celtics. “It’s great,” Hornets coach James Borrego said of having so much on the line in the final game. “This is fantastic for our young group. It should be another playoff-like intensity game. I welcome the opportunity – and this group does, too.”

… In Saturday’s game, Charlotte rallied from an 18-point first half deficit (48-30) and 17-point second half deficit (73-56) to force overtime. The Hornets even led by four points (97-93) with 8:41 left in regulation and had the last shot of regulation for the win. “One shot away,” Borrego said. “I’ll take that every time. Our guys battled.”

… The last shot of regulation was a clean look for Devonte’ Graham on a 3-pointer from the right wing that went long just before the buzzer sounded. In overtime, New York scored 10 of the first 12 points and cruised to the win. “We’ve got to do a better job of coming out and playing like we’re down 20 before we’re down by 20,” Graham said. “We’re making it harder on ourselves that it should be.”

… A huge story of Saturday’s comeback was the extraordinary play of Miles Bridges, who got cleared earlier Saturday after missing six games due to health and safety protocols relating to the coronavirus that kept him away from the team for two weeks. Bridges, who said he stayed in shape by riding a stationary bike, hit his first two shots from the field (including a 3-pointer on his first try) and finished with 30 points, five rebounds and four assists in 34 minutes. He had 16 points in the third quarter rally. “Spectacular performance by him,” Borrego said of Bridges. “Much more than I could’ve expected or imagined.”

… Graham added 25 points, three rebounds and eight assists, Jalen McDaniels 15 points, 10 rebounds and three assists, Terry Rozier 13 points, eight rebounds and four assists, Cody Zeller 10 points and 11 rebounds, P.J. Washington four points and 10 rebounds and LaMelo Ball eight points, three rebounds and four assists. Ball didn’t play after being replaced with 7:44 left in the third quarter but Borrego said it had nothing to do with the rookie guard’s wrist injury that recently cost him 21 games. “It was just a rotation thing,” Borrego said. “That group was rolling and I stuck with them.”

… Julius Randle had a game-high 33 points to lead New York (40-31), which was still jockeying for homecourt advantage in the first round of the playoffs. Former Kinston High and University of North Carolina standout Reggie Bullock added 17 points for the Knicks.

… Charlotte trailed 36-27 after the first quarter. It means the Hornets have trailed after the first quarter in six straight games and nine of the last 11 contests. The Hornets are 9-27 this season when trailing after the first quarter and 23-11 when they lead after the first quarter; Charlotte has had one tie after the opening quarter this season and it won that contest.

… Borrego continues to search for rotations this season as Saturday’s starting lineup of guards Graham and Terry Rozier, forwards McDaniels and Washington and center Zeller was the 22nd starting lineup Charlotte has used this season.

What’s next: The Hornets visit the Washington Wizards on Sunday at 1 p.m. Charlotte, Washington and Indiana enter Sunday with 33-38 records and will be the Nos. 8, 9 and 10 seeds in the Eastern Conference play-in tournament. Charlotte holds tie-breakers over both teams and Washington holds the tiebreaker over Indiana. “It’s the biggest game of the year,” Bridges said of Sunday’s contest. “We’ve got to win it.”