Charlotte Hornets

The NBA thought the Hornets would be a punchline, but Dwayne Bacon knew better

Panic doesn’t suit Dwayne Bacon, whether you’re talking about him or his team.

He read the cataclysmic predictions about the Charlotte Hornets’ season, and was amused. He wasn’t delusional about the challenges the Hornets face, following All-Star Kemba Walker’s departure, but this was overkill.

“I was looking online before the season even started, and guys had us 0-18! Breaking records of the (Brooklyn) Nets” for worst start in NBA history, Bacon said.

“At the end of the day, we know what we can do.”

So far, anyway, that’s brought tangible results. Bacon, a shooting guard, scored a career-high 25 points in the Hornets’ 93-87 road victory over the Golden State Warriors. The Hornets flew home from California 3-3. Did anyone see them close to .500 after an early-season West Coast trip?

The Hornets have beaten the Chicago Bulls, Sacramento Kings and injury-ravaged Warriors, all seemingly destined to miss the playoffs. They showed some pluck in losses to the Minnesota Timberwolves, Los Angeles Lakers and Clippers. They were blown out at home by the Wolves, but none of those performances were flat-out embarrassments.

Bacon is right; most of the predictions weren’t just of losses, but humiliation. It’s a small sample, but they’ve exceeded any reasonable expectation so far. They’ve survived mostly on 3-point shooting, but Saturday they closed out with solid defense, particularly from rookie Cody Martin, in holding the Warriors to 16 fourth-quarter points.

Bacon bakin’

Before Saturday, Bacon was shooting so poorly that you wondered if he was at risk of losing his starting spot. He shot 2-of-14 from the field, totaling eight points, against the Clippers and Kings.

Saturday, against a Warriors team missing stars Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green, Bacon attacked the rim constantly. He finished 10-of-21 from the field, and just as importantly, 5-of-5 from the foul line.

Built like an NFL linebacker, Bacon has the tools to be the most physically powerful player on Charlotte’s roster. There was no excuse for him shooting 33 percent from the field in the first five games. He should constantly be earning trips to the foul line.

“I’ve been in a slump the last two games, but I never doubted myself and I don’t think they ever doubted me,” Bacon described. “I think coach (James Borrego) believes in me and what I can do.

“What I did tonight is what I need to stick to all season, just what I am. I can get a rebound and get in transition — just push it. That’s what I showed tonight.”

Borrego agrees Saturday should serve as Bacon’s template.

“More aggressive — he got to the rim tonight,” Borrego said. “More assertive.”

Rookie impact

Borrego promised before the season to lean toward playing youth and accept the growing pains. He has done that for the most part, and never more dramatically than when he turned to Martin, the second-round pick, in the fourth quarter.

Martin played only two minutes in the fourth, but they were crucial minutes as this team’s defensive stopper. He made the hustle play of the game when he grabbed in Bacon’s tap of a jump ball with six seconds left and the Hornets clinging to a two-point lead.

“I take pride in my defense and playing hard. He sees that,” said Martin, who the Hornets selected 36th overall.

Borrego says Martin earned that faith. While he only played 25 minutes in the first five games, what he showed in practice said plenty.

“He’s a defender — we believe in him, we trust him,” Borrego said. “To go get that 50-50 ball (off Bacon’s tap) speaks to the winner, the spirit that he has.”

That might end up the best play of Martin’s rookie season, and the Hornets might not hover anywhere close to .500 the rest of the season. But they aren’t the punchline they were portrayed to be in the preseason.

“We’re very, very young,” Bacon said., “but we compete every night.”

Rick Bonnell is a sportswriter/columnist for the Charlotte Observer. He has been in Charlotte since 1988, when the NBA arrived, and has covered the Hornets continuously. A former president of the Pro Basketball Writers Association, Bonnell also writes occasionally on the NFL and college sports.
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