CHARLOTTE — With his team’s 128-101 win over the Orlando Magic on Thursday night, Charlotte Hornets coach James Borrego officially clinched his first .500 season of his head coaching career.
It was a welcome turn of events for a squad that had allowed 144 points in back-to-back losses. Led by LaMelo Ball and Terry Rozier, the Hornets (41-39) jumped to a 70-50 halftime lead and went on to notch a 27-point home victory over Orlando (21-60).
“The ball was moving but it was dictated by our defense, so great energy and we got to continue with that defensive effort,” Borrego said. “I thought in general tonight, our focus and our physicality was there defensively and that’s what it’s going to take. Tomorrow will present a new challenge, obviously, but I thought we took a step forward there tonight.”
The Hornets will travel to Chicago on Friday to face the Bulls (45-35) for their final road game of the season. Against a more formidable opponent, Charlotte — and its point guard — will hope to duplicate its latest performance.
Ball nearly achieved a triple-double on Thursday, posting 26 points, eight rebounds and nine assists. The reigning NBA Rookie of the Year was 10 for 21 from the field, including four made 3-pointers. As a team, Charlotte shot nearly 53% from the field while holding Orlando to just 40%.
“Like I say, I just always come in and play my game for real,” Ball said. “Every time I step on the court, I always feel like I came to shoot, so I just shoot.”
Rozier added 22 points and eight rebounds, and Kelly Oubre Jr. picked up 16 points along with six rebounds for Charlotte off the bench. Miles Bridges provided 13 points and six rebounds, and Montrezl Harrell made all of his six shots to record 14 points.
For the Magic, Chuma Okeke had a team-high 20 points and seven rebounds while Moritz Wagner had 17 points. Markelle Fultx, Ignas Brazdeikis, R.J. Hampton and Devin Cannady each posted a dozen points for Orlando.
Charlotte currently sits 10th in the Eastern Conference standings with two games left in the regular season. The eighth-ranked Brooklyn Nets (42-38) and ninth-ranked Atlanta Hawks (42-38) each hold a one-game advantage over the Hornets, who will need to win out and hope that their two main competitors lose out to move up in the standings.
If the season ended today, Atlanta would host Charlotte in a Play-In Tournament matchup.
“We have to move forward. We got a good win today. We just have to win out and worry about tomorrow,” Rozier said. “It’s going to be a tough one in Chicago, but we’ll be ready for it. We have to definitely take care of the details. It’s like a playoff atmosphere and every team is trying to build something, whether they’re in the Play-In or not.”