CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — While the Charlotte Hornets improved their win total by 10 games over last year’s abbreviated 72-game season, the end result was the same: an embarrassing blowout loss in the play-in tournament.
Despite winning 43 games, the Hornets finished in 10th place in the Eastern Conference and lost 132-103 on Wednesday night to the Atlanta Hawks. Charlotte lost by 27 points to Indiana in last year’s play-in tournament as the 10 seed.
If the Hornets want to end that cycle, it’ll have to start with defense.
Charlotte posted its highest offensive rating in franchise history and finished eighth overall in the NBA, but the defense continued to lag behind. Charlotte ranked 22nd in defense among the league’s 30 teams.
The loss to the Hawks illustrated the dire need for a rim protector and better man-to-man defense on the perimeter.
“We need to become more curious about how to guard,” coach James Borrego said. “We need to get better defensively by watching the best teams do it and learning from them and watching these (playoff) series.”
Miles Bridges agreed with his coach, adding that he’d like to see the Hornets add an inside presence.
“We have been saying this for the last few years, we have to get better on defense,” Bridges said. “We can’t keep saying it. We have to actually make it happen.”
The biggest personnel question heading into the offseason revolves around Bridges’ future. He’s a restricted free agent who’s expected to command big money come July.
Bridges confirmed reports that he turned down a lucrative $60 million contract extension offer from the Hornets last year, hoping to prove he was worth even more with a big season. He did just that, averaging a career-high 20.2 points and 7 rebounds per game.
Borrego admitted he didn’t foresee Bridges making this big of a leap.
The Hornets will have the option to match any offer made to Bridges by another team once he becomes a free agent, providing they make him a qualifying offer.
“I anticipate him being back with us,” Borrego said. “He’s a major part of this core, we love him. He’s a major part of this franchise.”
Said Bridges: “I mean I would love to come back, for sure. But I don’t even worry about that stuff. I let my agent worry about it.”
BALL WILL BE NO. 1
All-Star LaMelo Ball said he expects to be wearing a No. 1 jersey next season instead of the No. 2 he’s donned the first two seasons in the league.
Ball petitioned the NBA for a number change, and said he’s been told it has been granted.
“It’s supposed to happen,” Ball said. “I ain’t ever supposed to wear No. 2 again. If I see a No. 2 next year, I don’t know what I’m going to do, for real.”
Ball took No. 2 coming into the league because Malik Monk was wearing No. 1 for the Hornets at the time. Ball attempted to change numbers last year, but missed the deadline.
Ball said he’s always felt “weird” wearing No. 2.
“You don’t feel like you’re playing for real,” Ball said. “I don’t know who this is. I don’t know who No. 2 is.”
Midway through his ninth NBA season, Hornets center Mason Plumlee abruptly and boldly decided to make a huge shift from free throws and shooting jump shots with his left hand instead of his right hand amid a tremendous slump.
Plumlee said he plans to continue shooting lefthanded next season — even though he looks extremely awkward doing so.
“I’m going to stick with the left,” Plumlee said. “It feels good. I know the practice shooting is really good. I know it was an in-the-moment thing, but I’m happy with it.”
Gordon Hayward missed 22 games with a sprained ankle before returning for one game late in the season. But that return was cut short after Hayward experienced pain in the same left foot.
It turns out Hayward had a bone chip in the foot that was preventing him from getting back to full speed. He strolled into the press room on Thursday on a knee scooter, his lower left leg in a hard cast.
“After talking to the doctors they felt like the best way to get this thing to heal would be to cast it and basically get off of it,” Hayward said.
The 32-year-old small forward expects to be ready next season.
It turns out the Hornets can still have a chance to get a big win in the play-in tournament.
If Pelicans beat the Clippers on Friday night, Charlotte gets New Orleans’ first-round draft pick this year (No. 15 overall) as part of the trade that sent Devonte Graham to the Big Easy. If the Pelicans lose, the Hornets get New Orleans’ second round picks in 2022 and 2024 instead.
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