PREVIEW: Hornets at Rockets- Jan. 18

Jan 14, 2023; Charlotte, North Carolina, USA; Charlotte Hornets guard LaMelo Ball (1) stands on the court during the first half against the Boston Celtics at Spectrum Center. Mandatory Credit: Nell Redmond-USA TODAY Sports

PREVIEW: Hornets at Rockets- Jan. 18

The Rockets will try to avoid a 12th straight loss when they take on the Charlotte Hornets Wednesday night at Toyota Center. It is a battle between the teams currently at the bottom of the NBA’s standings, and the loser of the game will be in sole possession of last place.

Eye on the Hornets

Record: 11-34 (15th in Eastern Conference)

Offensive rating (rank): 109.2 (T-29th)

Defensive rating (rank): 116.1 (27th)

The Hornets enter Wednesday’s game on a five-game losing streak. Injuries and off-court issues have been devastating, with injuries limiting LaMelo Ball and Gordon Hayward to just 21 games, while last year’s leading scorer, Miles Bridges, remains unsigned after he accepted a plea deal for three felony counts of domestic violence. The Hornets are tied with the Rockets for the NBA’s worst offense because they cannot shoot the basketball. They are 28th in field goal percentage, 28th in 3-point shooting, and 26th in free throw shooting, but Charlotte plays at the league’s 10th fastest pace and is seventh in turnover rate.

Matchup to watch: Kevin Porter Jr. vs LaMelo Ball

An ankle injury forced Ball to miss 24-of-27 games to start the season, but he’s healthy now and averaging career highs in points (24.0) and assists (8.4) while bringing his turnovers down from 3.3 per game to 3.0. Ball has had to shoot more than ever before due to the Hornets’ roster limitations, and while his efficiency has fallen off a little, he is starting to round into form after the long layoff to start the season. Over the last 15 games, the Hornets are scoring 114.2 points per 100 possessions when Ball is on the floor and just 105.5 when he’s off. Porter is expected to return to the Rockets lineup on Wednesday after missing the two games in Los Angeles with a left foot contusion.

What I’m watching for

In scoring a career-high 33 points against the Lakers on Monday night, Alperen Sengun made two 3-pointers for the first time all season, and he’s drained a 3 in back-to-back games for the first time since the first two games of the season. Sengun made two 3’s in the Rockets’ first two games of the season, three in the last two, and just three in the 36 games in between. Long-distance shooting was an area of his game Sengun worked hard on last season, and while he didn’t hit at a very high clip, Sengun attempted 2.3 per game over the final 30 games of his rookie campaign. He’s attempted just 28 through his first 40 games of this season. Rockets head coach Stephen Silas said Sengun could one day get to 38% from behind the 3-point line, but even if he doesn’t hit that mark, simply showing a willingness to take that shot will open up a lot for his game and force teams to defend differently.

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