CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — LaMelo Ball had 26 points, nine assists and eight rebounds, and the Charlotte Hornets beat an Orlando Magic 128-101 Thursday that was shorthanded to return to the right path after two lopsided defeats.
Terry Rozier added 22 points as Charlotte moved within a game of the Atlanta Hawks and Brooklyn Nets, who are tied for eighth in the Eastern Conference with two games remaining in the regular season. The Hornets have already secured a spot in the play-in tournament and hope to improve their position.
Chuma Okeke had 20 points and Moritz Wagner scored 17 for Orlando, which has lost seven of its last eight games.
The game included a shoving match between several players in the fourth quarter with the Hornets leading by 25 points, resulting in the ejection of Orlando’s Robin Lopez and Admiral Schofield and Charlotte’s Montrezl Harrell. Lopez and Schofield waved to the crowd as they left the room.
The win secures Charlotte (41-39) its first season without a loss since 2015-16.
The Hornets also broke the previous franchise record for points scored (9,081) in a season set in 2018-19.
But offense hasn’t been the problem.
Charlotte entered the game having given up 144 points in consecutive road losses to the Philadelphia 76ers and Miami Heat. They turned the corner Thursday night, holding the Magic to 40% shooting from the floor.
“We were trying to pay attention to the details on the defensive end,” Rozier said. “If we take care of what we know we can take care of on defense, (then) that becomes our best offense.”
The Hornets built a 23-point lead in the first half and stayed in control the rest of the way. Coach James Borrego began to clear the bench with about 4 minutes to go.
The highlight of the night came when Ball stole a ball at midcourt, got between his legs with the ball in the air and blasted a perfect pass off the glass to Harrell who was following him for a two-handed dunk.
“It’s a great play,” Ball said. “I saw (Harrell) coming and I threw him through the glass.”
Emotions were running high for most of the night.
Charlotte’s Cody Martin dunked Wagner early on and several Hornets, including PJ Washington, began trash talking off the bench. Wagner responded on the ensuing possession with a reverse dunk and proceeded to look toward the Hornets’ bench.
That preceded a fight in the fourth quarter when Jalen McDaniels fouled RJ Hampton on a drive. Several players, including Harrell and Lopez, began pushing each other under the basket, but didn’t appear to be throwing punches. Officials huddled for more than a minute before the evictions were handed out.
“WWE, nobody fights,” Rozier said with a laugh.
Okeke said coach Jamahl Mosley told the Magic players to keep playing after the altercation.
“He told us to play the right way and stick together and finish the game.” he said.
3 POINTED BALL
Ball became the youngest player in NBA history to reach 300 career 3-pointers.
“It means nothing to me,” Ball said. “I can always come in and play my game. Every time I get on the court I feel like I can (make 3s), so I just keep shooting.”
Miles Bridges was voted the winner of the inaugural Rick Bonnell Award given to the Hornets player who works best with the media. Bonnell was a longtime NBA sports writer for the Charlotte Observer who died last year.
Magic: Missed several key players, including Franz Wagner (sprained right ankle), Cole Anthony (sprained left toe), Bol Bol (right foot surgery) and Gary Harris (personal reasons).
Hornets: Gordon Hayward’s left foot clearly hasn’t fully healed. After missing 22 games with a sprained left ankle, Hayward played 17 minutes again against Philadelphia on Saturday, but has since missed the last two games with sore left foot.
UNTIL NEXT TIME
Magic: Host Heat on Sunday night.
Hornets: Visit the Bulls on Friday night.
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