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Warriors at Hornets preview: Charlotte's improved guard play looks to slow down Golden State

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The Warriors meet the Hornets as their long and winding road trip continues.

George Frey/Getty Images
Matchup
Golden State Warriors
19-0 (9-0 ROAD)
vs
Charlotte Hornets
10-7 (8-2 HOME)
Details
December 2, 2015
Time Warner Cable Arena — Charlotte, NC
4 p.m. PST
CSN Bay Area | KNBR 680 AM
Blog Buddy: At The Hive
Projected Starters
Stephen Curry G Kemba Walker
Klay Thompson G Nicolas Batum
Brandon Rush
F Marvin Williams
Draymond Green F P.J. Hairston
Andrew Bogut C Cody Zeller
Key Injuries
Harrison Barnes (ankle) - OUT
Kevon Looney (hip) - OUT
Al Jefferson (calf) - OUT
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (shoulder) - OUT

★★★

In what has probably become a commonplace experience for most Golden State Warriors fans lately, it seems like everyone follows up their amazement at the team's 19-0 start to the 2015-16 season with a question that is starting to seem as mysterious as it is inevitable: When are they going to lose?

It seems that every reasonable fan believes that the first loss of the season could come during this seven-game road trip, which will continue today as the Warriors play the Charlotte Hornets. And the Hornets are as good a candidate as any to beat the Warriors for one simple reason: it seems likely that the loss will come at a point when we least expect it at this point, possibly due to the Warriors just running out of the mental energy to continue.

Hornets getting hot

The Hornets come into this afternoon's game having won five of their last six games and led by the backcourt combo of Kemba Walker and a rejuvenated Nicolas Batum, who is averaging a career-high 16.8 points per game and solid .580 TS% in his first professional season outside of Portland. And their combined ability in the backcourt might just pose the biggest threat to the Warriors with both guards

Kemba Walker is averaging a team- and career-high 18.4 points per game, including a career-high 39.7% from the 3-point arc and a career-high free throw rate. His 3-point shooting and ability to get to the line buoys a career-high .567 TS%. Rick Bonnell of the Charlotte Observer reports that a change in the coaching staff and a lot of practice are responsible for the improvement.

Walker spent hundreds of hours this summer working with Hornets shooting coach Bruce Kreutzer. Clifford hired Kreutzer last spring to replace Mark Price's skill set after Price left to become head coach of the Charlotte 49ers.

"I lived in the gym this summer, just trying to be more consistent," Walker said. "I know to get to another level I had to make 3s; be more consistent with it."

Batum's scoring efficiency is bolstered not only by 40.2% 3-point percentage on a career-high 5.7 attempts per game, but also a dramatically improved ability to get to the free throw line, which is illustrated by his 32.6% free throw rate. Reinis Lacis of SB Nation's At the Hive wrote up a close examination of Batum's ability to draw fouls from beyond the 3-point arc, highlighting his body control, ability to use screens effectively, and general craftiness. He's having a year that some believe is worthy of All-Star consideration and his ability to find points from the free throw line is a major reason for his success thus far.

Even without injured post Al Jefferson, who suffered a calf injury against the Milwaukee Bucks on Sunday, the Hornets pose a threat with their guard play. But despite a 50.6% effective field goal percentage as a team this season led by their improved guard duo, the Hornets will look like pedestrian shooters when lined up across from the Golden State Warriors.

Curry leads Warriors back to Charlotte

The Warriors feature the league's leader in 3-pointers made (94), attempted (211), and career 3-point percentage among active players (44.1%) in Stephen Curry, who is also the league leader in true shooting percentage (.686).

But just as Batum and Walker have improved, Curry's improvement might be most noteworthy: his career-high free throw rate of 30.9% make him an even more dangerous scorer than before. And going back to that note about Batum drawing fouls from beyond the arc, Curry has been noteworthy in that regard as well: Curry has a league-high tying two four-point plays so far this season, according to NBAMiner.com. Even more impressive, he has 10 And-1 plays from inside the arc, good for eighth in the league.

That added ability to draw fouls inside the arc while shooting a career-high 59.2% on 2-point shots has only made Curry more lethal and almost impossible to contain with his ability to pull-up from anywhere on the court to score efficiently. Put Curry on a team shooting 43.1% from beyond the arc and you have a team with a league-high 56.8% eFG% this season, which takes away a major advantage the Hornets would have over most teams they play — the Hornets one major potential advantage would be their ability to turn the ball over less, but the Warriors have proven they can remain undefeated despite ranking 22nd in the league in turnover percentage.

This is life when facing an undefeated team; best of luck to the Hornets in their quest to end this streak.