The Charlotte Hornets are wounded, out of contention yet still making the best of a disappointing situation, while the Utah Jazz have just been hurting recently.
The Jazz lost four games in a row before winning 131-124 on Thursday night at Orlando. Utah now tries for back-to-back wins for just the second time since the start of February when it takes on the Hornets on Saturday night at Charlotte, N.C.
The Jazz have hovered around .500 during for much of the season, but there are still glimmers of hope.
“Everyone has something to bring and contribute to us winning games,” Utah coach Will Hardy said. “When everyone stays focused and understands what everyone else brings to the party, we can play really good basketball.”
The Hornets continue to be difficult to figure out. They had a season-best five-game winning streak snapped and that turned into a three-game skid. Before the winning streak was a seven-game losing streak.
They won this week at New York, breaking the Knicks’ nine-game win streak, before defeating the lowly Detroit Pistons on Thursday night. The Hornets managed to win despite shooting 59.4 percent on 32 free-throw attempts.
Charlotte’s latest injury adversity was sustained by rookie center Mark Williams (thumb), who had five double-doubles in a seven-game span bridging February and March. The Hornets have received strong contributions from backup center Nick Richards, who has proven to be a valuable asset.
“He did a great job coming in and filling his role,” Hornets forward P.J. Washington said. “Kai (Jones) had some great minutes as well. I’m just glad those guys were able to come in and shine in the absence of Mark.”
Richards had 13 points and 10 rebounds in 29 minutes at Detroit.
Dennis Smith Jr. has shown that he’s more than capable at point guard for the Hornets. His role has expanded several times with injuries to LaMelo Ball, who’s now out for the rest of the season following ankle surgery.
“A bunch of guys did a good job,” Charlotte coach Steve Clifford said of the victory in Detroit. “Dennis was really the catalyst.”
The combination of Smith and Terry Rozier in the backcourt has worked at times. Rozier has gone consecutive games without a turnover, while playing at least 35 minutes in each.
The Jazz have been dealing with injury issues that have put Talen Horton-Tucker into a primary ball-handling role. He scored 23 points at Orlando.
“Knowing when to attack and when to find his teammates,” Hardy said, complimenting Horton-Tucker’s entire game. “I know he had 23 points, but it was eight assists that did it.”
It’s also a sign that Horton-Tucker is fitting in.
“Just being able to stay true to myself through every up and down,” Horton-Tucker said, noting he had to do his part “to get out of that little funk we had.”
The Jazz drubbed the Hornets 120-102 on Jan. 23 at home, with Lauri Markkanen posting 25 points and 11 rebounds.
Markkanen is averaging 25.4 points per game, but he has scored 33 and 31 points in the last two outings. That is the first set of back-to-back games with 30 or more points this season for the All-Star.
Charlotte is beginning a season-long five-game homestand.
–Field Level Media