Defensive, rebounding struggles and injury to a starter overshadow a career-high scoring effort in Hornets’ opener

By Richard Walker

The Charlotte Hornets entered Wednesday’s NBA season-opener with lots of optimism and excitement.

But despite a career-high 42 points from Terry Rozier, there was certainly more bad news than good for the Hornets in a 121-114 loss at the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Charlotte was outscored 41-21 in a second quarter coach James Borrego called “the difference in the game.”

But that wasn’t even the worst news as starting center Cody Zeller is out indefinitely after breaking his left hand early in the fourth quarter, leaving behind a team that was outrebounded 50-32 with him playing 19 minutes on Wednesday.

And heralded rookie LaMelo Ball, the No. 3 pick in last month’s NBA draft, went scoreless with five missed shots, one rebound, three assists, three turnovers and two personal fouls in 16 minutes off the bench.

“Obviously Cody’s going to miss some time,” Borrego said. “It was a poor performance, especially in the second quarter. Shots weren’t falling and we just gave in on the defensive end. We’ve got a long way to go.”

Rozier was clearly a bright spot with a career-high 42 points on 15 of 23 overall shooting that included 10 of 16 on 3-pointers. It’s the third huge game Rozier has had for the Hornets near his hometown of Shaker Heights, Ohio; Rozier scored 65 points in two games in Cleveland last season.

“I’m upset we didn’t come away with a win,” Rozier said.

Led by Rozier’s 36 second half points, Charlotte twice got as close as eight points late in the third quarter and within five (119-114) with 10.3 seconds left.

“Terry was special again tonight,” Borrego said. “He’s a heckuva camp and preseason. He and Gordon played extremely well tonight. We need other guys to step up as well.”

Of Hayward, Borrego added: “He looked comfortable out there. I thought he played extremely well.”

Ball first entered the game with 7:27 left in the first quarter and picked up his first assist when Hayward converted a 3-pointer just 14 seconds later.

“It’s disappointing because we didn’t win” was Ball’s assessment of his performance.

Hayward remains confident the Hornets’ rookie will have better days – and soon.

“I told him to just forget this one,” Hayward said of his advice to Ball. “There’s going to be so many nights where he’s going to play well. I have great confidence in LaMelo. He’s going to be a great player in this league.”

Cleveland, coached by former Charlotte assistant J.B. Bickerstaff, was without All-Star forward Kevin Love due to a calf strain.

But the Cavaliers has six double-figure scorers led by guard Collin Sexton’s 27 points. Center Andre Drummond (14 points, 14 rebounds) and Larry Nance, Jr. (13 points, 13 rebounds) were the biggest benefactors of Cleveland’s interior success.

Charlotte fell to 11-20 all-time in season openers and plays again on Friday at home against Oklahoma City.