Terry Rozier told Hornets to ride him Sunday. He certainly was up to that challenge

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Rick Bonnell
·4 min read
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It’s coach James Borrego’s job not to run what’s left of the Charlotte Hornets into the ground.

It was sort of Terry Rozier’s job Sunday to tell Borrego not to worry about that.

“We need this one,” Rozier told Borrego before Sunday’s 109-101 home victory over the Portland Trail Blazers. “You ride me as much as you need to get this one.”

Rozier personally dragged the Hornets to their first victory in five games. Not only did Rozier play 40 of a possible 48 minutes, but he was central to everything this team needed to eke out a victory. He finished two rebounds short of his second NBA triple-double, with 34 points, 10 assists and eight boards.

With LaMelo Ball (wrist fracture) and Devonte Graham (quad contusion) both hurt, Rozier is the Hornets’ primary point guard in addition to the go-to scorer. While Rozier originally came to Charlotte to play primarily point, he’s ended up more a shooting guard. He’s excelled at that — one of the best catch-and-shoot guys from 3-point range in the NBA.

But now, for the Hornets to close this deal and reach the playoffs, Rozier must be all things to all teammates.

“He’s going to be the focal point of every game we play,” said Borrego, who is missing four key scorers in Ball, Graham, Gordon Hayward (foot strain) and Malik Monk (ankle sprain).

The Hornets got back forward-center P.J. Washington on Sunday, after he missed three games with an ankle sprain, and Washington was terrific in his return. He totaled 23 points off the bench, plus eight rebounds, and covered the court on defense in a way you would never think he was coming off an injury.

“If I worry about my ankle,” Washington said of how he approached Sunday, “I’m not going to play good.”

Hopefully, Graham is back this week. Other than that, who knows? Monk was supposed to be back soonest of the other three, and Borrego said pregame Sunday that Monk has done “very little” because the ankle is still sore and swollen.

All the injuries made for a miserable last week, with the Hornets sliding down the Eastern Conference standings from fourth to eighth. They will likely end up in the play-in tournament, which will decide the seventh and eighth playoff seeds for each conference.

For the Hornets to end this four-season stretch without playoffs, it’s pretty much on Rozier to pull them to the finish line.

‘Get other people involved’

Even as Rozier slides back and forth between the guard spots, his playmaking has improved in his nearly two seasons in Charlotte.

“His greatest gain has been his playmaking,” Borrego said. “He is an elite shooter-scorer. How to move the ball, how to get others involved, that’s so tough at this level.”

Rozier sees this as an opportunity: That opponents have become used to defending him off the ball, and this complicates how they must approach him.

“Point guard is my true position,” said the 6-foot-1 Rozier. “I don’t want anybody panicking when I’m at the point guard spot.

“It’s not predictable when I’m on the ball. When I’m off the ball, teams can focus on me more” as purely a scorer.

Rozier knows he’s now at the top of every opponent’s scouting report.

“With the kind of year I’m having, teams are keyed in on me,” Rozier said. “Now, I’ve just got to make sure I’m looking for my guys more.”

Measure fatigue against opportunity

Rozier was one of three Charlotte starters, along with Miles Bridges and Cody Martin, who played 38 or more minutes Sunday. Borrego must strike a balance, until more players heal, between chasing viable victories and not burning up what’s left of the roster.

Borrego said he won’t go into any game conceding a loss. He has a general plan on playing time, but ultimately it’s about intuition and honest communication with players about exactly how they are feeling.

“I’m listening to the guys,” Borrego said. “And they’ve got to listen to their bodies.”