Hornets-Knicks Preview

Kemba Walker is taking the blame for the Charlotte Hornets staring at their longest losing streak in three months.

Slow starts and another possible absence from Nicolas Batum are bigger concerns.

With Batum's status unknown, Walker and the Hornets attempt to continue their success against the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday night.

Charlotte (44-33) is making just its third playoff appearance in 12 seasons. The Hornets are sixth in the Eastern Conference, one game back of Boston and Miami, who are tied for fourth.

They're also three games ahead of seventh-place Indiana with five to play.

Charlotte, though, would like to avoid its first three-game skid since losing seven in a row from Dec. 30-Jan. 10. That could put the Hornets in danger of falling further in the conference standings, a prospect that's not very appealing after losing back-to-back games to the teams holding the top two seeds. The Hornets lost 96-90 at Toronto on Tuesday after falling 112-103 at East-leading Cleveland two days earlier.

Charlotte trailed by 10 points after the first quarter of both games, combining to shoot 32.5 percent from the floor and 3 for 15 from 3-point range.

"The other night against Cleveland and (Tuesday) we just started out really flat," Walker said. "We're not the type of team that can do that. We have to play well from the start.

"I really put it on myself. When we're really good, I'm the one that's setting the tempo. I haven't been doing that for my team lately."

Walker is having a career year with 21.0 points per game, but he only had 11 against the Raptors after scoring 29 versus the Cavaliers.

He's totaled 59 points on 58.8 percent from the floor - 6 of 12 from long range - over the last two visits to MSG. A Bronx native, Walker scored 26 in a 97-84 home win over the Knicks (31-47) on Jan. 23.

Batum missed that matchup with a toe sprain, and he could be sidelined again after a left knee injury forced him to miss one game. The guard is second on the team with 15.2 points per game, but he only had four in a 102-94 loss at New York on Nov. 17.

If Batum is out again, Jeremy Lin would get the nod for a second straight game after totaling 21 points and seven assists Tuesday. He's averaging 16.0 points in nine games against the Knicks after briefly starring for them in 2011-12, where the "Linsanity" craze began.

The Knicks have dropped four of their last five, averaging just 90.0 points in those defeats. They shot 34.4 percent from the floor and 7 for 25 from 3-point range in losing 92-87 to Indiana on Sunday. However, that performance came while resting Carmelo Anthony and without Kristaps Porzingis, who is sidelined with a sore right shoulder.

New York will have Anthony back.

"I'm good to go. I'll play the rest of this week," said Anthony, the team leader with 22.0 points per game.

Anthony was held to nine points on 4-for-11 shooting at Charlotte on Jan. 23 after averaging 33.8 over his previous five meetings. That stretch started with an MSG-record 62 points in a win Jan. 24, 2014.

With Porzingis out, the Knicks will likely have Derrick Williams starting at forward for the fourth straight game. He's averaging 14.3 points on 51.7 percent shooting over the last three games.

Williams led the Knicks with 19 points and 14 rebounds off the bench against the Hornets in January.

SI Apps
We've Got Apps Too
Get expert analysis, unrivaled access, and the award-winning storytelling only SI can provide—from Peter King, Tom Verducci, Lee Jenkins, Andy Staples, Grant Wahl, and more—delivered straight to you, along with up-to-the-minute news and live scores.