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Game of the Night - Charlotte at Golden State (-12, 229.5), 8:35 ET, NBA TV
The Hornets won’t be the only team to be find themselves in a must-win in situation in Oakland over the next few months, but that shouldn’t make them feel any better. You know things haven’t worked out the way the Hornets were hoping they would when they entered 2019 as a .500 team with a world of possibilities ahead of them. Charlotte led the Southeast Division coming out of the All-Star weekend it successfully hosted, but lost nine of 13 and dug itself a hole it only has one way out of.
Realistically, Charlotte can’t lose again and hope to make the playoffs. As it is, running the table only gets them to 42-40, which means they’ll need the Heat, Magic or Nets to stumble ahead of them. They’ll need two of the three to struggle down the stretch. Their outlook is bleak.
Facing a summer where Kemba Walker will entertain multiple offers to leave the Queen City, there was supposed to be one last playoff push to convince Walker that he can indeed win with the team that drafted him, providing an opportunity to be the face of the all-time face of the franchise the way Dwayne Wade is for Miami and Reggie Miller was in Indiana. Barring a remarkable run down the stretch, Walker’s season will end after Game 82, and there’s no way that can be spun as a plus for Michael Jordan and the organization.
Those forecasting a late resurgence on this four-game road trip got a nasty surprise on Friday night when the Hornets came up short against the Lakers as a two-point road favorite in what will wind up as LeBron James’ final game of his inaugural season in L.A. That game was a must-win too. Charlotte lost 129-115 as the Lakers shot 56 percent and drained 18 3-pointers. That defensive effort certainly doesn’t bode well for the Bugs as they enter Oracle Arena, which only has three regular-season games to host after this one.
The Hornets were in the +650 range on the moneyline as the sun came up on Sunday, so if you’re willing to go down with the ship, the return is attractive on an outright upset. Walker scored 24 points in the loss to the Lakers and managed just 23 in a 121-110 loss to the Warriors back in Charlotte on Feb. 25 as his shooting woes continued. He shot 9-for-24 from the field and 3-for-12 from 3-point range in the loss and has definitely been less accurate as the season has worn on, a sign that he’s worn down trying to lift the rest of the group.
Walker is in a 16-for-58 (27.6 pct.) stretch from 3-point range after making just one of seven attempts against the Lakers, so he’ll need to have a big night in order to spark one last push. The Hornets play at the Jazz on Monday night and visit New Orleans on Wednesday to wrap up the trip, so simply getting to Game 80 in Detroit without being mathematically eliminated would be a huge victory.
The Hornets have only beaten Golden State once in the last nine meetings between the teams dating back to the 2014-15 season, but the victory did come on their last visit to Oakland. Charlotte beat the Warriors 111-100 on Dec. 29, 2017, taking advantage of the absence of Stephen Curry. Walker scored just 16 points and shot 5-for-16 from the field but then-Hornet Dwight Howard dominated with 29 points, 13 rebounds and seven assists.
Cody Zeller led Charlotte with 28 points and nine rebounds in the first meeting but he’s unlikely to participate due top a knee issue that has kept him out the past few games. Bismack Biyombo has been in the starting lineup, joined by shooting guard Dwayne Bacon and rookie forward Miles Bridges as new additions that head coach James Borrego has turned to in order to key a resurgence. If nothing else, the Hornets have gotten key young pieces some valuable experience during March’s rollercoaster ride.
Golden State has talked about how it doesn’t need homecourt advantage and will likely employ some “load maintenance” for key players down the stretch, but it has certainly gone all out to try and finish ahead of Denver and will see them come into Oracle on Tuesday for one of April’s most important remaining regular-season games. The Nuggets enter Sunday with an identical 51-24 record and will host Washington in a game that will tip a half-hour prior to this one.
The Warriors fumbled away their Western Conference lead in Minnesota on Friday night in a 131-130 OT loss that had them baiting fines after voicing their displeasure with referee Marat Kogut after a controversial final few minutes. Kevin Durant felt he should’ve been at the line to complete a four-point play before Steph Curry looked like he’d sent the game into a second overtime with a 3-ball with 0.1 remaining, which led to him openly ridiculing the refs. A foul was then whistled on Durant on the inbounds pass that sent Karl-Anthony Towns to the line for the game-winning free-throw. It was a weak call.
The fraternity of officials certainly won’t take kindly Golden State’s post-game comments, which included Draymond Green getting on Twitter and appearing to compare Kogut to Tim Donaghy, lumping their initials together. We’ll see if the whistle plays a role tonight.
Golden State blew a 14-point halftime lead and saw its bench outscored 49-25, wasting a 37-point night from Curry, who buried 11 3-pointers. The Warriors fell to 0-5 in overtime games this season, which probably means nothing but is certainly surprising. The ‘over’ connected for the third straight game involving Golden State, which had seen the ‘under’ prevail in 13 of 14 between Feb. 28-March 23. Charlotte’s last four games have surpassed the posted total. It has averaged 117.7 points over its last six games but has surrendered 116.7 over that same span.
Best of the Rest
Sacramento at San Antonio, 7:05 p.m. ET: The Spurs need to run the table to get to 50 wins. Failing to do so will mark the first time since 1992-93 that they failed to reach 50 victories in consecutive seasons. Unless the team headed to the postseason for a record-tying 22nd straight year can find one last surge, it’s looking increasingly likely that San Antonio will open the playoffs as the No. 7 or No. 8 seed after finishing seventh last year. The Spurs want nothing to do with another playoff rematch against the Warriors and are but need to be nearly perfect to move up past the surging Jazz and Clippers for the No. 6 seed. San Antonio does only have one team currently above .500 on its remaining schedule, so a strong finish is certainly possible for a team that has already won 11 of its past 14. The Kings fell 119-108 in Houston on Saturday, victimized by a 50-point, 11-rebound, 10-assist night from James Harden. Sacramento led to open the fourth quarter and hung around until shots stopped falling and Harden effectively played closer. Harry Giles missed his fifth straight game with a thigh bruise and Nemanja Bjelica was too ill to play, leading to Marvin Bagley III getting the start. The Kings have won both-regular meetings against the Spurs, taking advantage of their edge in athleticism at home. Sacramento hasn’t won in San Antonio since 2012, losing 11 consecutive games at AT&T Center.
Washington at Denver, 8:05 p.m. ET: There was talk of shelving Bradley Beal against the Jazz the other night after Washington’s playoff pursuit officially ended, but the All-Star shooting guard convinced the team to let him continue playing. He’ll extend his streak of consecutive starts to 160 barring something unforeseen here and will look to continue his steady production in a go-to role to give the Nuggets another tough test in the Wizards’ lone trip to Denver this season. The Nuggets won in D.C. 113-108 on March 21, riding a balanced effort past Beal’s 25-point night. At 9-30, Washington has the fifth-worst road record in the NBA and will be facing a Denver squad that can tie Milwaukee for the league’s top home mark at 32-6 by taking care of business here. Forward Trevor Ariza has been ruled out for the Wizards, so expect rookie Troy Brown to continue starting in his place. This is the last game of Washington’s four-game Western swing on which it has gone 1-2. It’s the team’s next-to-last road game of the season. The ‘under’ is on a 17-4 run in Denver games.
Memphis at L.A. Clippers, 10:35 p.m. ET: The Grizzlies posted their biggest comeback win of the season in rallying past host Phoenix 120-115 after falling behind by as many as 18 points. Devin Booker scored 48 points but was held down in the closing stages as center Jonas Valanciunas imposed his will after Deandre Ayton exited with an ankle injury, finishing with a career-high 34 points and 20 rebounds and scoring 10 of Memphis final 16 points in a game-clinching run over the final five minutes. Although he’s been nicked up, there’s no talk of the big center missing this contest. The Grizzlies may rest Mike Conley, who played a team-high 37:49 in the victory and may skip the second of a back-to-back. The Clippers rolled past the Cavs at home 132-108 early on Saturday to win for the 12th time in 14 tries. Definitely monitor the availability of multiple players in this one since Montrezl Harrell suffered a scare with his ankle in the win over Cleveland and Danilo Gallinari is also dealing with a bum wheel. L.A. won the most recent meeting between these teams 112-106 on Feb. 22, getting 30 points from Harrell. The ‘over’ is on a 7-1 run in Clippers games and has prevailed in nine of 11 involving Memphis.
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