SAN ANTONIO, Texas — The third quarter had just ended and more than a few fans popped out of their cushy gray seats, scurrying directly for the exits to likely get a jump on beating the traffic snarls on nearby streets and freeways.
Anyone keeping tabs on the Charlotte Hornets’ offseason and subsequent lack of player moves probably would’ve thought they’d be the victims on this night, getting buried in a game they were without their All-Star point guard. Instead, turns out it was the exact opposite scenario.
Minus LaMelo Ball, the Hornets had their way with San Antonio from the opening tip. They rode their highest first-half – and first-quarter – scoring output in a season opener and pounded the Spurs 129-102 at AT&T Center on Wednesday night.
Terry Rozier slid into Ball’s starting point guard spot and had the Hornets’ offense humming. In fact, the team didn’t miss a beat at the position.
Rozier, who thinks Charlotte can be a sleeper team this season, pumped in 24 points to go with six rebounds and six assists. And Dennis Smith Jr. chipped in 12 points, four rebounds, two steals, two assists and two blocks.
The Hornets utilized a breakneck tempo that aided in propelling them to 68 first-half points after a 38-point showing in the first quarter. They mashed their foot on the Spurs’ necks and never really let up, ensuring they got off on a winning note.
Here’s what we learned in the Hornets’ victory:
Some fans turned their noses up – or even worse – at the outset of training camp when coach Steve Clifford firmly suggested Nick Richards had as good a summer as anyone on the team. Clifford proclaimed the third-year big man had the leg up on the competition for the Hornets’ backup center spot.
Against the Spurs, Richards proved why.
He posted 19 points and snatched 10 rebounds, exerting himself inside. Richards established career bests for points in a half (12), total rebounds in a half (6) and offensive rebounds in a half (5).
Not a bad way to tip things off for the University of Kentucky product.
Making the start at shooting guard with Rozier shifting to point guard, Kelly Oubre was more than serviceable and a big part of the Hornets’ fast start.
Oubre tied his career-high with three first-quarter steals, marking the seventh occasion he’s collected that many in a quarter in his career. He was also plus-22 in the first quarter.
The eight points and three steals in the initial quarter were also a throwback for Oubre. Last season, he was one of six players with multiple quarters of at least eight points and three steals.
Cody Martin hurt
Opening night signaled things are definitely different under Clifford.
Unlike year’s past, it appears Cody Martin is no longer the first player off the bench. Clifford summoned for Jalen McDaniels in the sixth man role, having him replace P.J. Washington early in the first quarter.
Martin was the fourth reserve to check into the action in the first, but didn’t last long. He was on the floor for 58 seconds of action before exiting and heading back to the locker room. Martin was diagnosed with left quad soreness and didn’t return.
It’s been a struggle for the fourth-year forward in the health department lately. He missed all but one of the Hornets’ five preseason games with left knee tendinopathy, so leaving their matchup with the Spurs in the early going certainly wasn’t a good thing.
After his weekend DWI arrest, one of the questions surrounding the Hornets’ rotation centered around James Bouknight. Would he peel off his warmups and actually enter the game?
Well, that answer came in the second quarter.
Bouknight entered with 10:10 remaining before halftime and logged the fourth-most minutes of the team’s reserves. He went scoreless through the first two quarters, misfiring on all three attempts.
He finished his night scoreless in 15 minutes, still struggling mightily with his shot and missing all five attempts he hoisted up..
LaMelo on the mend
A sight for sore eyes was on the court warming up during pregame.
Ball worked out a bit with assistant coach Marlon Garnett, signaling the first time he’s done true basketball activities since he sprained his left ankle in the Hornets’ penultimate preseason game against Washington on Oct. 10. Ball definitely appeared to be moving much better on his ankle and not displaying the noticeable limp prevalent the past week or so.
He fired off jumpers and did some dribbling as well, indicating he’s on the mend and could be available at some point within the next two weeks barring a physical setback.