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HIGH EMOTIONS: Charlotte Hornets coach says Ball’s injury will be a challenge for his team

By Richard Walker

Charlotte Hornets coach James Borrego admits the news about rookie guard LaMelo Ball’s broken wrist has hit him, his organization and his team hard.

Hornets rookie LaMelo Ball is shown here receiving his two NBA Eastern Conference rookie of the month honors from Hornets general manager Mitch Kupchak.

“Obviously, this is tough to swallow,” Borrego said following a shootaround practice to prepare for Monday night’s game at San Antonio. “It hit everybody hard. Everybody loves this kid. He’s at the core of our organization. He’s a pillar for us. Anytime someone like that is hurting, it’s tough. This has been an emotional evening and morning for us.”

The news that shook the organization is that Ball suffered a fractured bone in his right wrist and the severity of it wasn’t determined until a Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) exam on Sunday in San Antonio. Borrego wouldn’t confirm reports that Ball would be lost for the rest of the season but did say Ball would be out for “an extended period of time.”

Ball suffered the injury after he landed awkwardly after being fouled on a drive to the basket in the first half of Saturday’s 125-98 loss at the Los Angeles Clippers. Ball continued to play before Borrego said Ball looked “more and more uncomfortable” and he pulled Ball out of the game in the second half.

A two-time NBA Eastern Conference Rookie of the Month who is considered the favorite to win the 2021 NBA Rookie of the Year award, Ball is averaging 15.9 points, 5.9 rebounds, 6.1 assists and 1.59 steals in 41 games this season. Since becoming a starter on Feb. 1, Ball is averaging 19.5 points, 5.8 rebounds, 6.2 assists and 1.7 steals in 21 starts.

The No. 3 overall pick in the 2020 NBA Draft, Ball was the only rookie in the last 60 years to lead all rookies in total points, rebounds, assists and steals at the All-Star Break.

Charlotte (20-21) now resumes a five-game West Coast road trip that has started with an 0-3 record at San Antonio.

“This is really about resiliency,” Borrego said. “And that’s what this team has been about. This season has tested the fabric of our resiliency. This hurts in the moment. But in the end, we’ll be better.”

In Ball’s absence, Devonte’ Graham is likely to return to the starting lineup alongside guard Terry Rozier, forwards Gordon Hayward and P.J. Washington and center Bismack Biyombo; Starting center Cody Zeller will miss his second straight game with a shoulder injury.

Borrego said Graham, Rozier, Hayward and reserve guard Malik Monk would likely add more ballhandling duties with Ball sidelined.

“We’re going to come back a stronger team because of this,” Borrego said. “You find a way to continue to move forward. And LaMelo will find a way to benefit from this. He’s going to be studying the game and he’ll be our biggest cheerleader.”