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NBA: Hornets host Celtics in matchup of hobbled teams

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The Charlotte Hornets would like to join the Boston Celtics in making a late-season surge.

The Celtics want no part of Charlotte’s injury problems.

The teams match up Sunday afternoon in Charlotte, N.C. and the latest results probably got the attention of both teams.

The Celtics (32-28) couldn’t overcome the Brooklyn Nets in Friday night’s 109-104 loss despite Jayson Tatum’s 38 points. That was only the second defeat in the last nine games for Boston, which played without guards Jaylen Brown, who has missed two games in a row, and Kemba Walker, who took the night off to rest his left knee.

Walker is bound to want to play Sunday in the same arena where he was a star player before joining the Celtics.

Boston will seek a bounce-back performance after a 19-turnover outing put the Celtics in a sour mood.

“Turnovers have to improve,” Celtics coach Brad Steven said. “Transition defense has to improve. Transition offense, obviously, has to improve. And I think it will.”

The Hornets (29-30) have won only two of their last eight games, but they had three players — Miles Bridges, P.J. Washington and Terry Rozier — score 25 points in Friday night’s 108-102 victory against visiting Cleveland.

Another lineup change for the Hornets seemed to work out. Coach James Borrego is searching for answers while he hopes key players mend from injuries in time to return for meaningful games.

Bridges also had 10 rebounds, and his spot as a starter seems to be paying off.

“He has continued to impact the team,” Borrego said. “He has brought that first-group energy and he has sustained it. I think Miles has handled himself (well) in the starting unit.”

Bridges’ growth on the offensive end should be applauded as much as anything, Borrego said. He made three key baskets down the stretch in the Cleveland game, continuing to showcase a more well-rounded collection of talents.

“There is another level to Miles,” the coach said. “That’s exciting for our group. He’s stepping up and making huge shots.”

After using rookie center Vernon Carey Jr. in the starting lineup for a few games, the Hornets scratched that approach and went without a center in the first-string unit. Bismack Biyombo came off the bench and made the defensive contributions that Charlotte was counting on. Therefore, Cody Zeller joined Carey in not getting into the game.

“It’s a toss-up for me between Bis and Cody,” Borrego said. “Every time (Biyombo) is on the floor, he turns our defense. I went with his experience and his overall aggressive mentality on the defensive end.”

The good thing for Boston’s injury problems was the production from guard Payton Pritchard, who chimed in with 22 points Friday night. He was 6-for-7 on 3-point attempts, including some extra-long connections.

“I think I had that before I came to the Celtics,” Pritchard said of the range. “So I think I had that ability to shoot from deep.”

What wasn’t so encouraging for the Celtics was Evan Fournier, who had missed nine straight games due to the NBA’s COVID-19 health and safety protocols. He was 0-for-7 from the field in his return.

Boston blew out the Hornets 116-86 on April 4. The teams will meet again Wednesday night in Boston. The Celtics hold a 9-3 record this month.

The Hornets will be without Gordon Hayward (foot) and LaMelo Ball (wrist). Nine of Charlotte’s remaining 13 regular-season games are at home.

–Field Level Media

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