Hornets coach pleased with team’s improvement in second preseason game

By Richard Walker

The Charlotte Hornets had another strong start to a preseason game against the Toronto Raptors at the Spectrum Center on Monday night.

The Hornets also struggled in the second half and lost again to the Raptors in the preseason, this time by a 112-109 margin.

But as Charlotte coach James Borrego knows as well as anyone, preseason games won’t mean anything once the regular season begins – that’s on Dec. 23 this season at the Cleveland Cavaliers – and he likes the progress his team is making.

“I’m thrilled with this team,” said Borrego of a team that’ll conclude its preseason with games at the Orlando Magic on Thursday and Saturday. “I love this team. I love their approach.”

In Monday’s game, Charlotte roared ahead by as many as 14 points, including 30-22 after the first quarter, 60-57 at halftime and 87-85 after three quarters. But Toronto dominated the fourth quarter and a 14-1 Raptors’ surge helped them pull away for the win.

In Saturday’s preseason-opening loss, Charlotte led by 19 points in the first quarter before Toronto caught and passed the Hornets in the second quarter on their way to a 111-100 victory.

Charlotte used 12 players for 11 or more minutes and used starters Gordon Hayward, P.J. Washington, Terry Rozier and Devonte’ Graham and reserve LaMelo Ball for 20 or more minutes each.

Ball, the No. 3 overall pick in last month’s NBA draft, scored the first points of his NBA career and added a pair of highlight-reel alley-oop assists for dunks – one to Jalen McDaniels and one to Miles Bridges.

“Pretty much it’s just a blessing to be out there,” said Ball, who had no points, 10 rebounds and four assists in 16 minutes in Saturday’s preseason opener. “I saw my teammates driving and I threw them the ball.”

Ball’s first points came on a 3-pointer late in the first quarter and drew a smile from the 19-year-old rookie.

“Miles passed me the ball, I pump-faked and hit the 3,” Ball said.

McDaniel, a second-year player, and veteran Rozier led the Hornets with 15 points apiece. Haywood added 14 points, Graham 13 and Cody Zeller 10.

Bridges and Washington led in rebounding with six apiece and Graham and Hayward led in assists with six each.

Charlotte had assists on 33 of its 37 made field goals.

“This is who we are and it has to be,” Borrego said.

Fourth-year guard Malik Monk also made his debut, entering late in the fourth quarter and scoring two points (on one of six shooting) with three assists.

“It was amazing,” Monk said of his debut which came after he’s missed virtually all of training camp after a positive COVID-19 test. “I’ve been out 10 months. I was just happy to be out there with the guys.”