Charlotte Hornets

Another big Hornets win over Magic, but it comes with a significant injury cost

Return of former Hornets coach Steve Clifford to Charlotte

Former Hornets coach Steve Clifford was back in Charlotte to coach against his old team. Clifford now coaches the Orlando Magic.
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Former Hornets coach Steve Clifford was back in Charlotte to coach against his old team. Clifford now coaches the Orlando Magic.

The Charlotte Hornets got their 13th consecutive victory over the Orlando Magic Monday, but at a potentially significant cost.

Two starters were injured in the 125-100 victory at Spectrum Center: First, shooting guard Jeremy Lamb left in the first half with a right hamstring strain and didn’t return. Then, in the third quarter, center Cody Zeller left to have his right hand x-rayed. That examination confirmed Zeller has a broken hand.

It’s unclear how long either could miss, but Zeller’s injury could be problematic, since that is his shooting hand. Zeller has started 35 of 36 games this season. The only game he missed this season so far was a Dec. 2 loss to the New Orleans Pelicans, because of sore ribs.

Zeller was limited to 67 of a possible 164 games the past two seasons with various ailments. He had knee surgery last winter to repair a torn meniscus and was shut down for about the last month of last season with knee soreness.

New Hornets coach James Borrego said in the preseason it was a priority to manage Zeller’s health this season, and would include sitting him out of some practices. However, a broken hand isn’t the sort of injury that can be avoided with preventative medicine.

The Hornets extended a franchise-best head-to-head win streak with their 13th victory over the Magic. The Hornets are 2-0 in this series this season. In both victories, the Hornets led by 30 or more points.

Three who mattered

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Charlotte Hornets center Cody Zeller (40) goes up a basket while being covered by Orlando Magic center Mo Bamba (5) in the first half of an NBA basketball game Monday, Dec. 31, 2018, in Charlotte, N.C. (AP Photo/Jason E. Miczek) Jason E. Miczek AP

Kemba Walker: He had a quiet second half, finishing with 24 points, but set the tone for the Hornets with 20 first-half points.

Malik Monk: Very efficient with his shot selection Monday and got to the foul line. Finished with 21.

Cody Zeller: Before he got hurt, he took eight trips to the foul line, making them all.

Observations

The Hornets sent second-year guard-forward Dwayne Bacon to the G-League Greensboro Swarm, and it isn’t the typical one-game assignment. Coach James Borrego said pre-game Bacon would be with the Swarm for multiple games. Bacon had played only two of the Hornets’ last 11 games, logging 13 and nine minutes. His spots — small forward and shooting guard — are where the Hornets are particularly deep

The Magic had a big-time injury problem at point guard Monday, with D.J. Augustin and Jonathon Simmons both missing this game with ankle sprains.

Lamb left in the first half with a right hamstring strain. Lamb has played, and started all 36 games this season. He made his first four shots from the field Monday.

The Hornets had great efficiency offensively in the first half; they made five of their eight 3-pointers and took 17 free throws.

With Lamb out for the second half, Borrego started rookie Devonte Graham. This was Graham’s third consecutive game of significant minutes. He scored 10 points in the third quarter

Worth mentioning

Walker reached 20 points in the first half, his 27th game this season of 20 or more points

Hornets coach James Borrego said pre-game he will sometimes tell Walker not to come to the arena on practice days, looking to manage his body and energy level.

With Zeller out, Borrego played his third- and fourth-string centers — Frank Kaminsky and Bismack Biyombo — in the second half. The Hornets do have good depth, and a range of skill sets, at center this season.

They said it

“He doesn’t get too high or too low. You wouldn’t know that until you’re around him. He’s a very consistent presence for our group.” — Borrego on what he’s learned in three months coaching Walker.

“There just aren’t many guys who do what he does. Degree-of-difficult of shots, he’s like second in the NBA.” — former Hornets coach Steve Clifford on Walker, particularly his ability to make 3-pointers off the dribble.

“I take all the credit for Vuc. ... I wish him well, but not tonight” — Borrego, joking about the improvement of Magic center Vucevic, from when Borrego was interim coach of the Magic in 2015.

Report card

A OFFENSE: Great 3-point shooting complemented by plenty of assists and trips to the foul line.

B+ DEFENSE: They didn’t allow Magic center Nik Vucevic, a viable All-Star candidate, get going offensively.

A COACHING: Borrego’s confidence in rookie Graham is paying off.



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