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NBA Beat: Injury-plagued Hornets try to recapture past magic

Guard Kemba Walker returned to Charlotte’s lineup on Wednesday against the Kings after missing 20 games with a knee injury.
Guard Kemba Walker returned to Charlotte’s lineup on Wednesday against the Kings after missing 20 games with a knee injury. The Associated Press

Charlotte loved its Hornets.

The expansion franchise that began in 1988 was beloved before former owner George Shinn moved the team to New Orleans in 2002.

Charlotte was awarded an expansion team in 2004 that was rebranded as the Bobcats.

Excitement surrounded the Bobcats last season, as the team showed big improvement and made the playoffs. The team reclaimed the Hornets name and colors this season and proudly displays photographs of Hornets greats like Alonzo Mourning, Larry Johnson and Muggsy Bogues.

Now the struggle is to recapture the magic on the court.

Injuries have plagued the Hornets, and good news often has been mixed with bad news.

Point guard Kemba Walker returned to the lineup on Wednesday after missing 20 games with a knee injury.

But in that game, center Al Jefferson limped off the court in the third quarter with a calf injury.

The injury isn’t considered season ending, but if Charlotte fails to find the consistency of last season, the Hornets hysteria will end in the regular season.

“Worst thing when you play 82 games is a ‘sometimes’ team,” Charlotte coach Steve Clifford said after the Hornets lost to the struggling Kings on Wednesday. “And let’s face it, that’s what we are. Do we have room for error? Almost none. Do we have to play all out 48 minutes a night with all-out enthusiasm, energy, toughness and intelligence? Yes we do.”

The Hornets bounced back with a win over Chicago on Friday and entered Saturday with a 29-35 record, eighth in the Eastern Conference. Charlotte also had won seven of 10.

The return of Walker will be pivotal in Charlotte’s push for the postseason.

The Hornets average just 95.1 points, 27th in the NBA, and allow 96.9 per game, sixth in the league. They are the only team in the top eight of either conference with a negative plus/minus.

Walker has the ability to create offense for himself and others. The Hornets’ best player before his injury, he is averaging 18.3 points and 5.2 assists.

“I felt good,” Walker said after scoring six points on 2-of-9 shooting in 16 minutes in his first game back. “I felt really confident in my ability to move and play the way I’ve been playing. (The Hornets) have been playing well, (so I just wanted to) continue to do what I was doing before I got hurt. I’ve got to try to get back to that level.”

While Walker was out, Charlotte acquired Mo Williams, which now gives the team two scoring options at point guard. Clifford will play them together at times as he brings Walker back along slowly from the injury.

“We’re both a scoring threat,” Williams said, “and we both can handle the ball and can be in a lot of positions on the court. We can get multiple pick-and-rolls. Either he or I start it and swing it to the weak side and get the defense moving to another pick-and-roll. It’ll make us a lot better as far as playmaking when you add two guys like myself and him.”

And it will be a lot more fun for the fans if the Hornets return to the playoffs.

Trending up

If you’re looking for a big reason the Indiana Pacers could be in the playoffs, consider guard Rodney Stuckey.

In his last 10 games entering Saturday’s contest against Boston, Stuckey was averaging 20.1 points, seven points more than his season average, while shooting 50.5 percent.

The Pacers had won seven in a row and surged to seventh in the Eastern Conference, with Stuckey giving a team that has struggled on offense a consistent scorer.

Trending down

Anyone holding out hope of NBA labor peace in 2016 can move on.

The National Basketball Players Association notified the NBA that the union would not agree to “smoothing” an increase to the salary cap when the NBA’s new television deal takes effect for the 2016-17 season.

Smoothing the increase would have prevented a spike in the cap for the 2016-17 season. Obviously, the players, knowing there’s a financial windfall from the TV deal, aren’t interested in helping the owners.

Get ready for labor strife, folks.

Last words

“I guess Draymond is now in that same category.”

Los Angeles Clippers coach Doc Rivers’ laughing response to reporters about Golden State Warriors forward Draymond Green in the latest exchange of verbal jabs between the franchises. Green referred to Rivers by his given name, Glenn. Rivers said only Pat Riley and his mother call him Glenn, and that’s when they are angry with him.

Follow The Bee’s Jason Jones on Twitter @mr_jasonjones and read more about the team at www.sacbee.com/kings.

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