Charlotte Hornets

Kemba Walker scores 43, but Charlotte Hornets eliminated from playoffs

Hornets needed Knicks help

Hornets coach James Borrego on whether he called his college buddy, Knicks coach David Fizdale, to push for Knicks to beat Pistons.
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Hornets coach James Borrego on whether he called his college buddy, Knicks coach David Fizdale, to push for Knicks to beat Pistons.

If this proves to be Kemba Walker’s farewell game, it was vintage.

All-Star point guard Walker had his seventh game this season of 40 or more points, reaching 43 on 16-of-25 shooting, in the Charlotte Hornets’ 122-114 season-closing loss to the Orlando Magic. The Hornets end the season 39-43.

The Spectrum Center crowd showed its appreciation, chanting “MVP” at Walker as he stepped to the foul line in the fourth quarter. By then, the Detroit Pistons were blowing out the Knicks in New York, to beat out the Hornets for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.

Walker’s contract expires, making him an unrestricted free agent in July for the first time in his eight-season NBA career. He said before the season he would like to re-sign and Hornets general manager Mitch Kupchak has said the team’s intent is for Walker to finish his career in Charlotte.

However, Walker figures to draw attractive offers from teams with both enough salary-cap space to offer him a maximum contract and appealing talent. The Dallas Mavericks and Los Angeles Lakers could both pursue him. Also, the Knicks, based in Walker’s hometown, have huge salary cap room this summer and are expected to also pursue Golden State Warriors star Kevin Durant.

Three who mattered

Walker: He finally departed the court with a minute left, to a standing ovation.

Jeremy Lamb: His 19th game this season of 20 or more points.

Terrence Ross: He scored 35 off the bench for the Magic.

Observations

The Magic and Pistons were both without All-Star big men Wednesday: Magic center Nikola Vucevic was out with stomach flu and Pistons power forward Blake Griffin was out with a knee injury.

The Hornets got back forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, who missed the prior two games for a personal absence. Marvin Williams (right foot strain) and Cody Zeller (left knee soreness) were again inactive.

Former Hornets coach Steve Clifford, now coaching the Magic, made two interesting observations on his old roster: That Walker has become one of the NBA’s most dangerous 3-point shooters off the dribble and that Jeremy Lamb’s ability to beat defensive switches is a highly-valued skill the way the game is currently played.

The Hornets playing their third game in four days was certainly reflected in coach James Borrego’s rotation: Before the first quarter was over, he had already used 10 of a possible 13 players.

Worth mentioning

Tony Parker ended this season without a playoff appearance after going to the post-season 17 straight with the San Antonio Spurs. Parker didn’t play the last 13 games this season. Though he is under contract to the Hornets for next season, his future here seems cloudy.

These two teams combined for a miserable 8-of-29 from 3-point range in the first half.

Walker was the only Hornet to play all 82 games this season. This is the second time in his eight NBA seasons he has played every game.

They said it

“We just have not given in. We could have easily given in, I don’t know, 12 or 15 games ago.” – Hornets coach James Borrego before the game on staying alive in the playoff hunt through 82 games.

Report card

B OFFENSE: The 3-point shooting wasn’t there at just 8-of-29 Wednesday.

D DEFENSE: Even missing Vucevic, the Magic had no problem scoring, particularly after their 3-point percentage picked up in the third quarter.

C COACHING: Only so much that coaching can do about a clearly tired team.



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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