CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Gordon Hayward came to Charlotte looking for an expanded role and an opportunity to turn a struggling Hornets franchise into a winner.
The 30-year-old small forward is getting both done while playing some of the best basketball of his career.
Hayward scored 34 points and the Charlotte Hornets beat the New York Knicks 109-88 on Monday night for their fourth straight win. Hayward has been on fire for the Hornets during the team’s winning streak, averaging 29.2 points while shooting 55% from the floor and 92% from the foul line.
“It’s been a lot of fun playing with my new teammates and under this coaching staff,” Hayward said. “I’m having a great time. As long as we keep doing our jobs and playing hard every night I think the wins and losses will take are of themselves.”
Hayward scored 28 points in the first half on 8-of-12 shooting from the field and 10-of-10 shooting from the foul line to give the Hornets 57-50 lead at halftime. He finished 11 of 17 from the field as the Hornets came in with an aggressive approach against a Knicks team playing on the second night of a back-to-back.
“This is why we brought Gordon Hayward here,” Hornets coach James Borrego said. “He set the tone for us and came out aggressive. He understands the significance of every game.”
Devonte Graham had 19 points and seven assists for Charlotte, and P.J. Washington had 13 points as the Hornets handed the Knicks their third straight defeat.
Kevin Knox had 19 points to lead the Knicks, and Mitchell Robinson had 12 points and 11 rebounds.
The Hornets scored 24 points off 17 Knicks turnovers. Charlotte committed 10 turnovers while climbing above .500 for the first time this season.
Knicks guard Austin Rivers said everyone needs to take a “deep breath” and not worry about the team’s losing streak.
“We have played some of the best teams in the NBA … and half of our team is out with injuries,” Rivers said. “So guys have to step up and be better. Our defense has been horrendous and that has led to a bad offense.”
Julius Randle came into the game averaging 23.2 points and 11.8 rebounds per game for the Knicks but was held to 11 points and five rebounds and was a non-factor for much of the night.
“Julius is getting double-teamed and triple-teamed right now with his post up, trying to get the ball out of his hands and we can operate off of that,” Knicks coach Tom Thibodeaux said. “We have to have good spacing, and right now we are hesitating a little bit and I don’t want them to do that.”
LaMelo Ball, who became the youngest player in NBA history to record a triple-double on Saturday night against the Hawks, was 3 of 13 from the field and finished with eight points, a career-high 14 rebounds and seven assists.
SHARING THE ROCK
The Hornets came in leading the league in assists and added 28 more against the Knicks.
“When the basketball is moving and you’re getting open shots and easy buckets it’s just fun,” Hayward said. “It’s hard to guard. … I have some great teammates who can really pass the ball.”
Knicks: Rivers got his first start of the season with Reggie Bullock ruled out with a sore hip. Rivers finished with 13 points. … Shot just 24% from 3-point range and 39% overall on the second night of a back-to-back.
Hornets: Came into the game leading the NBA with 29 assists per game. … Hornets jumped out to a 19-5 lead.
Knicks: Return home to face the Nets on Wednesday night. New York is 2-3 at home.
Hornets: Wrap up a three-game homestand Wednesday night against the Mavericks.
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