Ball scores 32 but Hornets fall short in 121-106 loss to Knicks

Charlotte’s 15-point loss snapped a five-game winning streak

New York Knicks guard Immanuel Quickley (5) and forward Jericho Sims (45) vie for a rebound with Charlotte Hornets forward Cody Martin (11) during the first half of an NBA basketball game Wednesday, March 23, 2022, in Charlotte, N.C. (AP Photo/Rusty Jones)

CHARLOTTE — Facing a red-hot Charlotte team that was riding a five-game win streak, the New York Knicks took advantage of a 40-point first quarter on Wednesday to coast to a 121-106 road win over the Hornets.

Charlotte (37-36) trailed by 20 at one point before slicing New York’s lead to just six points near the end of the third quarter thanks to LaMelo Ball, who notched a game-high 32 points with nine rebounds and five assists. 

RJ Barrett and the Knicks (31-42) responded by holding steady and outscoring the Hornets 22-19 in the fourth quarter. The former Duke shooting guard finished with 30 points while Obi Toppin (18 points, 11 rebounds) and Alec Burks (17 points, seven rebounds) each put together valuable minutes for New York.

Hornets coach James Borrego said his players didn’t start the game out on the right foot, leading to the early deficit and loss.

“They made shots and obviously we didn’t come out with an aggressive mindset as we needed to, so we move forward and have a game in two days,” he said. “It was significant that we found our way back into it, but I think starting games — giving up 40 in the first quarter — that’s got to get cleaned up.”

Hornets guard Terry Rozier echoed his coach’s sentiments.

“That first quarter has kind of been a story for a while now, we dug ourselves a huge hole. … We’re playing against professionals who know how to hoop so we dig ourselves in a hole and have to try to climb back.” 

Rozier finished with 18 points while Miles Bridges added 15 points, five rebounds and nine assists. Charlotte’s other usual scorers were limited compared to their normal outputs. Kelly Oubre Jr. had just three points, while P.J. Washington had 10 points and Montrezl Harrell five.

The Hornets end their five-game homestand on Friday with a visit from the Utah Jazz (45-28). The only meeting between the two teams was back on Dec. 20 in Salt Lake City, when the Jazz pulled out a 112-102 victory. 

In the middle of a fight for better seeding in the Eastern Conference standings with only nine games left in the regular season, the Hornets know they need to buckle down defensively, especially starting with the opening tip. 

“During this part of the season, you definitely have to get a better start off to the game,” Ball said. 

If the season ended today, ninth-seeded Charlotte would face 10th-seeded Atlanta (36-37) in a winner-take-all Eastern Conference play-in game. The Hornets trail the eighth-seeded Brooklyn Nets (38-35) by a single game with one game between the teams remaining (March 27) that could determine the tiebreaker in the seeding between those two squads.