Charlotte Hornets return to practice, close first half with busy schedule starting Saturday at home

By Richard Walker

The Charlotte Hornets were cleared to return to practice after four full days off due to COVID-19 issues.

Now the team plays seven games in 12 days, beginning with Saturday’s 8 p.m. home game against Charlotte’s Stephen Curry and the Golden State Warriors.

“Not your ideal week but we’ve made the most of it,” Hornets coach James Borrego said via zoom news conference following Friday afternoon’s practice session. “We had a good full practice today. Got ready for a game tomorrow night.”

Charlotte’s strange week came the NBA announced on Monday postponements of the Hornets’ Wednesday home game against the Chicago Bulls and Friday home game against the Denver Nuggets after four positive COVID-19 test results with the San Antonio Spurs; San Antonio beat the Hornets in Charlotte 122-110 on Sunday night, which meant contact tracing within the Hornets led to the pause.

The Hornets will remain without forwards Caleb Martin and Cody Martin due to health and safety protocols but the team did get starting forward P.J. Washington cleared after he was unable to be involved with the team due to safety and health protocols initially.

Also, two injured players – starting guard Devonte’ Graham (left knee patella femoral) and starting forward Gordon Hayward (lower back discomfort) – got time to heal; Graham remains doubtful for Saturday while Hayward is probable.

“This week has been a little strange obviously,” Hornets starting guard Terry Rozier said. “A lot of (COVID-19) testing. But it felt good to get back out there with the guys. It felt like it’s been two weeks.”

Charlotte was enduring its second break caused by the NBA’s health and safety protocols. In mid-January, Charlotte got five days off and a game with the Washington Wizards was postponed due to COVID-19 issues with the Wizards.

This time, Charlotte couldn’t hold a full team practice for four days.

“We should have some fresh legs,” Borrego said. “But these are challenging days for anybody.”

Charlotte showed some rust after the first layoff, losing 123-110 at home to the Chicago Bulls, and Borrego hopes the stretch of seven games in 12 days to close out the NBA’s first half schedule will get his team back into rhythm quickly.

“Obviously, this year we’ve had to adjust more than any year I’ve been a part of,” Borrego said.

After Saturday’s home game, the Hornets visit Utah (Feb. 22), Phoenix (Feb. 24), Golden State (Feb. 26), Sacramento (Feb. 28), Portland (March 1) and Minnesota (March 3).

The NBA hasn’t yet released its second half schedule that could start as soon as March 11.

Charlotte entered Friday with a 13-15 overall record that was good for eighth place in the Eastern Conference. But the upcoming schedule will see them play five games against the top seven teams in the Western Conference; Entering Friday, Utah (24-5) was in first place, Portland (18-10) fourth, Phoenix (17-10) fifth and Golden State (16-13) seventh.

“I think these four days that we got will be good,” Rozier said. “But we need to close out (the first half) real strong.”