Lauer Sounds Off: Opportunity Arises in Wake of Injuries

Lauer Roberts

By Scott Lauer

Scott Lauer is the radio play-by-play voice of the Charlotte Hornets. His column will appear on on Thursdays throughout the season. The opinions expressed here are his own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Hornets organization.

The Hornets are resembling a MASH unit these days, as the team has lost Kemba Walker for at least six weeks following knee surgery, and Bismack Biyombo (knee bruise), Marvin Williams (concussion) and Jannero Pargo (back injury) are also out.  One man’s misfortune is another’s opportunity.  That’s the only way to approach the situation.

Brian Roberts is naturally going to soak up most of the minutes at the point.  Head Coach Steve Clifford is comfortable with him in that role, as he started 42 games for New Orleans last year when Jrue Holiday was hurt.  He logged eight points, six assists and three steals last night in San Antonio.  Gary Neal acts as the backup, but that’s obviously not his ideal spot.  Teams will likely apply pressure with aggressive single-coverage or traps when he handles it.  Patty Mills displayed that defensive aggression against Neal, so it’s something that he’ll likely have to adjust to.  Offensively, he finished with 12 points against his former team.

Al Jefferson returned to the lineup, which was coming anyway, as his conditioning was coming back following the groin strain injury which forced him to miss nine-straight games earlier.  With Biyombo’s setback, he now has to absorb big minutes, and in 35 minutes he had 17 points and 16 rebounds.  The starting unit against the Spurs had a healthy +/- ratio.  Where the injuries hurt is the lack of depth, and that’s where the Spurs capitalized.  Needless to say, now that Walker is out, the offense needs a boost and Jefferson has the ability to carry the team.  He proved to be the best big man late last year, and we need that production as much as ever.  Jason Maxiell is playing backup four and five now, as Marvin Williams remains out until he passes the NBA’s concussion testing protocol. 

Cody Zeller received 36 minutes in San Antonio and had a career-high seven assists with 13 rebounds, a block, and amongst his nine points was his first 3-pointer.  Before the game, Zeller was recognized by the league to participate in the BBVA Compass Rising Stars Challenge during All-Star festivities in New York City.  The game will feature 10 rookies and second-year players from the US against 10 from other countries who are now in the NBA.

Noah Vonleh is now in the rotation, helping to back up Zeller, and the rookie played nearly nine minutes in San Antonio, hitting his only shot and both free throws, finishing with four points and one assist. 

The bottom line is that the team’s defense and rebounding has to play at an elite level for them to compete.  They held the Spurs to 95 points on 42% shooting, and were -6 in rebounding.  The Hornets have the best team defense in the month of January, yielding only 89 points per game.  They remain tops in the league in protecting the ball as well, so the team is in many ways back to where they were last year.  As it stands today, they’re a playoff team in the Eastern Conference.  The key question will be if they can grind out enough points without Walker to capitalize on their areas of strength.  Last night, they accepted their first loss in four games without Walker this season.

The road trip continues in Denver on Saturday night in what should be deemed a winnable game.  The Nuggets have the same record of (19-27) and are keyed by Ty Lawson, Arron Aflalo and Kenneth Faried.  They dealt Timofey Mozgov to the Cavs and are possibly looking to move more pieces.  With a tougher game in Washington on Monday night, it would be comforting to secure the Denver game in the middle of this trip.


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