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Monk, Ball Return to Action as Hornets Gear Up for Playoff Push

by Sam Perley

After missing a combined 36 games and almost ten weeks of action, the Charlotte Hornets’ backcourt got a major boost on Saturday night with the long-awaited returns of both LaMelo Ball and Malik Monk.  

The rookie Ball finished the 107-94 home win over Detroit with 11 points on 4-of-10 shooting, seven rebounds, a game-high eight assists and two blocks in 28 starting minutes, while Monk added 11 points on 4-of-8 shooting and two assists across 22 minutes off the bench. For a Hornets squad that has struggled to generate offense over the past month, the energy and overall liveliness these two possess on both ends was extremely noticeable from the get-go.  

“With Melo, we’ve lost a lot of pace, a lot of transition game, playmaking ability,” said Coach Borrego on Friday afternoon. “Melo’s made a number of winning plays for us this entire season. His floor game, his ability to make others better, we’ve lost that and you have to put Monk in the same category. Both guys have the ability to create shots one-on-one, out of our pick-and-roll game or spread game. These are two guys that individually, can go make plays.”

Terry Rozier also broke out of a small funk with 29 points on 8-of-15 shooting from three, perhaps already seeing the immediate benefit of less defensive attention his way. Ball, Monk and Gordon Hayward’s absences had put the team in a tight spot for the last several weeks, with Borrego continuously tinkering with different lineups in order to ignite the scoring. He seems to have found success with an all-small starting five which now presumably includes Ball, Rozier, Cody Martin, Miles Bridges and PJ Washington.    

“The group that has played without these two deserves a ton of credit,” Borrego added. “For us to be right around .500 without these two and put Gordon Hayward in it, I couldn’t be prouder of these guys the way they’ve bunkered in, defended, played, shared the ball, made shots and played as a unit. We’ve lost a little on the one-on-one downhill, playmaking game, but other guys have stepped up. Through these injuries, we have found some other pieces that have grown and developed and I think that’s only going to make us stronger.   

Ball had missed the team’s previous 21 games after fracturing his right wrist in Los Angeles on March 20, and now is averaging 15.8 points on 45% shooting (37% from three), 5.9 rebounds, 6.2 assists and 1.6 steals in 42 appearances this season, 22 of which are starts. A bad right ankle sprain in Brooklyn on April 1 caused Monk, who is putting up a career-high 13.0 points per game on 43% shooting from three, to sit out 15 contests. 

Charlotte had been playing at the NBA’s third-slowest pace since Ball’s injury (95.95 possessions per 48 minutes), after sitting ninth in this category across its first 41 outings (100.84). The team had also ranked 18thin offensive rating (110.8), fourth in points off turnovers (19.4) and fifth in fast-break scoring (15.1) with the reigning third overall pick healthy, marks that dropped to 23rd (109.4), 22nd (15.1) and 19th (10.9), respectively, from March 22 to April 28. 

Albeit a small sample size against a depleted Pistons squad, the Hornets had a single-game offensive rating of 113.8 on Saturday evening, while tallying 21 points off 13 takeaways and 23 fast-break points. Using defense to generate offense over these final nine games will be paramount for the Hornets as they enter the home stretch of the 2020-21 NBA regular season.  

“I look for these ten games to be our best of the season,” Borrego stated ahead of Saturday’s victory. “I truly believe that. We’re in a great position right now to make our run. We’re going to get healthier, we’re fresh and off we go.”  

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