Celtics’ Walker looks to go 3-0 vs. struggling Hornets

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All-Star guard Kemba Walker returns to his former home Tuesday when the visiting Boston Celtics meet the Charlotte Hornets at Spectrum Center.

Walker, Boston’s leader in scoring (22.5 points per game) and assists (5.2), spent eight seasons in Charlotte and earned three All-Star Game invitations from 2017 through 2019. Walker left the Hornets in free agency last summer.

Tuesday is the guard’s second game back in Charlotte. The Celtics won a 108-87 rout on Nov. 7 in which Walker scored 14 points and dished six assists. He also scored 23 points in the teams’ last meeting in Boston, a 119-93 win on Dec. 22.

This time, Boston comes in off a blowout loss of its own. The Celtics dropped the second half of a back-to-back on Dec. 28 to the Toronto Raptors, 113-97. The loss ended a five-game winning streak for the Celtics, which included a Christmas Day triumph against the reigning NBA champion Raptors.

“Those are the defending champs,” Walker told reporters following Saturday’s loss. “They got a target on their back. They’re the team to beat. And they came in like they were the defending champs tonight.”

Jayson Tatum, Boston’s second-leading scorer at 21.2 points per game, attempted just seven shots in the loss. He went off for 39 in Boston’s Dec. 22 rout of the Hornets.

Boston will aim to start another winning streak Tuesday against a Charlotte team that has been sputtering over recent weeks. The Hornets come in on a five-game skid, which includes the blowout in Boston a little more than a week ago, and a 117-104 loss Sunday in Memphis.

Charlotte dug a deep hole early and never recovered against the Grizzlies.

“To get down 20 points in the first half is unacceptable in a game like this,” Hornets coach James Borrego said in his postgame press conference. “They’re on a back-to-back. To me, it’s a very unprofessional approach to the game from the start. We’ve got a young group. Have to keep fighting, keep growing.”

Charlotte’s four leading scorers range in age from 21 years old — P.J. Washington and Miles Bridges — to 24 and 25, with breakout star Devonte’ Graham and former Celtic Terry Rozier.

Rozier shined for Boston in its run to the 2018 Eastern Conference finals. This season, he is second on the Hornets in scoring at 17.3 points per game and in assists with 4.3 per game.

Graham leads Charlotte at 19.1 points and 7.7 assists per game. Graham recorded 16 points and 10 assists against Memphis, but shot just 5 of 18 from the floor, including 3 of 12 from behind the 3-point line.

The Hornets cannot expect many clean looks at the rim Tuesday, facing a Boston defense that ranks second in the NBA in scoring defense. The Celtics are holding opponents to 104.0 points per game on 43.8 percent shooting from the floor.

The Hornets ranked 28th in the league through Sunday in scoring at 104.1 per game. They failed to reach 100 points in regulation three times in their first-game losing streak.

–Field Level Media

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