Hornets-Trail Blazers Preview
Nicolas Batum played his best basketball of the season in mid-November, including a stellar performance in a victory over his former team.
The weary Charlotte Hornets sure could use another one of those efforts now.
Batum makes his return to Portland on Friday night looking to sting the Trail Blazers again, and he'll have some help with the season debut of Michael Kidd-Gilchrist.
The Hornets (22-24) haven't had more than one day off in more than two weeks and won't again until finishing a four-game trip against the Los Angeles Lakers on Sunday. They've had some success navigating through a condensed portion of the schedule, but that wasn't the case Wednesday, when they looked tired in a 102-73 loss at Utah.
Charlotte had won four of its previous five, with two of those victories going into double overtime and another being decided in one five-minute session. It didn't help that they again were short-handed, as Cody Zeller sat out a fourth consecutive contest with a right shoulder strain and Jeremy Lamb missed a third straight with a right toe injury.
Jeremy Lin sprained his ankle in the third quarter, didn't return and won't play Friday. Lamb is questionable while Zeller will remain out.
"Doesn't matter. You've got to be able to play 82 times. That's what the best teams do," coach Steve Clifford said. "The good thing is we have a game Friday, but we've got to find the energy level and spirit that we've had."
Getting Kidd-Gilchrist back far sooner than expected should give the Hornets a boost. The former No. 2 overall pick had surgery to repair a torn labrum in his right shoulder in early October and was pronounced out for the season. Now, less than four months later, he's ready to go.
Batum returned to the starting lineup against the Jazz after missing the previous three with a toe problem and finished with six points and 10 rebounds. He's missed seven games since Jan. 2 and scored in single digits in four of the seven he's played during that span, going scoreless in another.
Those numbers are far different than what Batum put up in the first meeting with Portland (21-26) on Nov. 15, when he went 11 of 19 from the field and scored a season-high 33 points in a 106-94 victory.
It marked Batum's first game against his former team after he was traded to Charlotte for Gerald Henderson and Noah Vonleh in June. The Hornets are hoping Batum can provide another spark after shooting just 36.8 percent against the Jazz and tying their season high with 20 turnovers.
"We've just got to regroup," said Kemba Walker, who is averaging 29.7 points over his last six. "This is the NBA, high-intensity games. We'll be all right."
The Blazers are 2-1 to begin a seven-game, 17-day homestand that gives them two-day breaks between four of those games. They've won six of eight overall after beating Sacramento 112-97 on Tuesday.
C.J. McCollum led seven players in double figures with 18 points, Henderson had 15 off the bench and Damian Lillard tied his career high with 13 assists.
Vonleh has scored in double digits in consecutive games for the first time in his career, finishing with 11 in Saturday's win over the Lakers and 10 against the Jazz.
''Everybody's been able to catch their breath (on the homestand)," coach Terry Stotts said. "(It's) unusual in January that we've had this many days off."
Portland's recent surge has it in the mix for the Western Conference's last playoff spot, though Lillard isn't putting much stock into that in late January.
"It sounds good today," Lillard said. "Everybody in here would like to stay in that spot, maybe move up. We've just got to stick with it."
The Blazers have won the last seven meetings in Portland.