Hornets ‘start a new season’ Tuesday; how do they finish better than the last one?

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Mourning served no purpose for Charlotte Hornets coach James Borrego on Sunday. His team is now down to survive-and-advance mode.

“This one stinks,” Borrego said after his team blew an 11-point, fourth-quarter lead to the Washington Wizards. “But Tuesday night we start a new season.”

Potentially, a one-game season. The Hornets losing their last five regular-season games dropped them from eighth in the Eastern Conference standings to tenth. That has significant consequences.

The Hornets finishing eighth would have meant playing the Celtics in Boston on Tuesday, knowing if they lost that game they’d host a game Thursday that could also get them into the 16-team playoff draw.

Now, they would have to win two road games — at the Pacers, then at the loser of Celtics-Wizards Thursday — to reach the eighth playoff seed.

This is like the NCAA tournament — lose and go home — except each game on the Hornets’ path has the opponent with home-court advantage,

“We’ve got to win a game Tuesday night, and that will fuel us,” Borrego said, sounding more hopeful than predictive.

The Hornets won the Pacers series 2-1 this season, but these teams haven’t played since April 2. Four things to know about Tuesday’s last-chance proposition:

You’ll all get to see it, but without Eric and Dell

The Hornets-Pacers game is at 6:30 p.m. on TNT, with the Celtics-Wizards game to follow at 9. That means cord-cutters, many of whom have been frozen out of Hornets telecasts in the Sinclair carriage impasse, can watch.

However, it also means no Bally Sports South telecast. You would not hear a call from Hornets broadcast team Eric Collins and Dell Curry again this season, unless the Hornets advance to the first round of the playoffs.

The Hornets began selling tickets to potential post-season games Saturday. Now, there would only be another game at Spectrum Center if the Hornets advance to the playoffs.

Charlotte Hornets center Cody Zeller, right, looks to fake Indiana Pacers forward/center Myles Turner on a shot attempt during second half action Friday.
Charlotte Hornets center Cody Zeller, right, looks to fake Indiana Pacers forward/center Myles Turner on a shot attempt during second half action Friday.

That pesky big-man problem

The biggest challenge the Pacers present is reflective of a chronic Hornets problem: How do you contain opposing big men?

As Borrego said last month, center has been a problem the past three seasons and might continue to be one the next three. The Hornets have never settled on a clear starter at center between veterans Cody Zeller and Bismack Biyombo, and forward P.J. Washington switching positions.

The Pacers have two big men who create separate problems. Domantas Sabonis is a cagey scorer who was in the All-Star conversation this season. He averaged a career-best 20.2 points this season, plus 11.9 rebounds. He is tremendous at getting to the foul line, averaging 5.4 free-throw attempts this season.

The other Pacers big man is rim-protector Myles Turner, a player the Hornets reportedly pursued at the trade deadline. Turner’s 3.4 shot-blocks per game this season are a major impediment to Hornets star LaMelo Ball’s drives and any post-up action by Charlotte’s big men.

Primarily thanks to Turner, the Pacers lead the NBA in blocks this season at 6.44 per game.

Does Malcolm Brogdon play?

Pacers point guard Malcolm Brogdon missed the last 10 games of the regular season with a hamstring injury, but he was well enough to be listed as questionable to play Sunday against the Wizards before ultimately being ruled out.

Brogdon has been a big problem for the Hornets. He played in two of the three games, finishing the first one with 25 points and six assists and the second with 21 points and eight assists.

Charlotte Hornets forward Gordon Hayward suffered a foot sprain in Friday’s road victory over the Indiana Pacers. The Hornets play Hayward’s former team, the Boston Celtics, Sunday.
Charlotte Hornets forward Gordon Hayward suffered a foot sprain in Friday’s road victory over the Indiana Pacers. The Hornets play Hayward’s former team, the Boston Celtics, Sunday.

Chance Gordon Hayward plays?

Hornets star small forward Gordon Hayward suffered his sprained foot in that April 2 game in Indianapolis and hasn’t played since. He’s from suburban Indianapolis and starred at Butler.

The Hornets are 8-16 since Hayward’s foot diagnosis. Any chance he plays Tuesday?

Unlikely. Neither Hayward nor Cody Martin (ankle sprain) could participate in a light practice Wednesday before a home loss to the Los Angeles Clippers. It’s hard to expect Hayward would be ready Tuesday, or that he’d be particularly effective if he tried to play after spending a month in a protective boot.

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