Hornets drop 7th straight game in 125-106 loss to Hawks

Charlotte moves to 7-22 on the season

Atlanta Hawks forward Onyeka Okongwu (17) drives into the defense of Charlotte Hornets guard LaMelo Ball (1) during the first half of an NBA basketball game Friday, Dec. 16, 2022, in Charlotte, N.C. (AP Photo/Rusty Jones)

CHARLOTTE — The Hornets trimmed a 24-point Atlanta lead down to just four points before the Hawks roared back with a strong fourth quarter for a 124-106 win Friday at Spectrum Center.

The free-falling Hornets (7-22) have now lost seven in a row and have the worst record in the NBA.

Trae Young (31 pts) and Bogdan Bogdanovic (28 pts) combined to go 17 of 31 from the floor and 9 of 15 from 3-point range, pacing Atlanta (15-15) past Charlotte’s 16-2 run in the third quarter.

In LaMelo Ball’s second game back from injury, he recorded a 19-point first half and finished with 27 points, knocking down 7 of 13 shots from deep. Gordon Hayward returned from injury but was limited to just nine points and five assists.

“We did a lot of good things. We played with a lot of purpose,” Hornets coach Steve Clifford said after the game. “Obviously, having Gordon back helps a lot and you can see that with Melo too. It’s going to take a few games for them to get their conditioning and their rhythm and everything.”

Atlanta was nearly unstoppable in the first half of play as Young, Bogdanovic and former Duke standout AJ Griffin diced up Charlotte’s defense. 

Griffin was one of three Hawks bench players to score at least 11 points in the game, joining former Hornets center Frank Kaminsky and Aaron Holiday. Coasting on 63% first-half shooting, the Hawks entered halftime with a 75-59 lead. 

The Hornets tried to rally in the fourth quarter, but they had dug too much of a hole — mostly due to their struggling defense — to recover.

“Even in the first quarter, we didn’t score offensively, but we got good shots, the ball was moving. I thought we had good energy,” Clifford said. “The first three quarters, our offense was good. It’s just the fouling. Those are fouls. We’ve got to stop. We’ve lost a few games, we’ve got the turnover thing, we’re a lot more consistent now and we’re not turning it over as much, that cost us. We’re minus-15 at the free-throw line, it’s hard to win. … Every time those guys are driving and you’re slapping down and stuff, it makes it hard to win.”

Terry Rozier had a quiet night for Charlotte with just 10 points — just half of his season average. 

Kelly Oubre Jr, readjusting to a reserve role with Ball and Hayward back in the fold, picked up 16 points off the bench but made just 5 of 19 shots. P.J. Washington (personal) was a late scratch for the game, giving Jalen McDaniels a shot in the starting lineup.

The Hornets will have their next chance to throw water onto their season’s fire on Sunday night as they head over to Denver for a bout with the Nuggets (17-11).