PREVIEW: Without LaMelo Ball, Charlotte Hornets visit Houston Rockets

Mar 22, 2021; San Antonio, Texas, USA;  Charlotte Hornets guard Terry Rozier (3) shoots the ball against the San Antonio Spurs in the second half at the AT&T Center. Mandatory Credit: Daniel Dunn-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 22, 2021; San Antonio, Texas, USA; Charlotte Hornets guard Terry Rozier (3) shoots the ball against the San Antonio Spurs in the second half at the AT&T Center. Mandatory Credit: Daniel Dunn-USA TODAY Sports

The Charlotte Hornets, who visit the Houston Rockets on Wednesday, received a sliver of hope on Tuesday.

They learned standout rookie guard LaMelo Ball underwent successful surgery on his fractured right wrist, with a timetable of four weeks established to re-evaluate his condition.

Ball, averaging 15.9 points, 6.1 assists and 5.9 rebounds per game, sustained the injury in the Hornets’ loss to the Los Angeles Clippers on Saturday. He had established himself as the clear frontrunner to claim Rookie of the Year honors, with the initial diagnosis following the injury revealing Ball would miss the remainder of the season.

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That assessment remains a distinct possibility, but with just under two months remaining in the regular season and the Hornets squarely in the Eastern Conference playoff picture, there is an outside shot that Ball could return to action.

In the interim, the Hornets will press on without their dynamic lead guard. Charlotte defeated the San Antonio Spurs 100-97 on Monday in the team’s first game without Ball, getting 27 points from Gordon Hayward and 24 from Terry Rozier. Devonte’ Graham, who replaced Ball in the starting lineup after Ball replaced him following his injury in February, had nine points and four assists.

Graham will remain in the lineup aside Rozier when Charlotte meets the Rockets at Toyota Center. The Hornets claimed the first matchup this season 119-94 on Feb. 8, after Ball had 24 points, which included him going 7-for-12 on 3-point shooting, seven rebounds and 10 assists.

“When we play with LaMelo we get great pace on makes or misses,” Graham said. “Obviously, he attracts a lot of attention defensively and obviously playing with him makes it a lot easier for everyone else. It’s a huge blow for us that he’s not going to be playing.

“We’ve got to get back adjusted, figure out ways to play with more pace. He got to the paint a lot so obviously, we’ve got to do a better job of guys getting to the paint more, kicking out 3s and just being aggressive.”

The Rockets snapped their franchise-record 20-game losing streak on Monday with a 117-99 victory over the reeling Toronto Raptors. They received the balanced scoring attack they envisioned when they added Victor Oladipo during the James Harden blockbuster trade to a lineup that featured John Wall and Christian Wood as scoring cornerstones.

Interestingly, Oladipo did not play against the Raptors, sitting out the second game of a back-to-back as part of his injury management. Houston excelled without him, as Wall produced a triple-double (19 points, 11 rebounds, 10 assists), while Wood scored all 19 of his points in the second half to lead the charge to triumph. Whether Oladipo plays against the Hornets remains a mystery given his status as a trade deadline chip.

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Oladipo has averaged 21.2 points, 5.0 assists and 4.8 rebounds in 20 games with the Rockets, but reports continue to swirl that he will be jettisoned ahead of Thursday’s deadline. Houston has dealt with roster attrition throughout its injury-ravaged season, so losing Oladipo would merely serve as the latest challenge facing a team already accustomed to the chore.

Whatever comes next, the Rockets earned the moment to celebrate their win Monday.

“It’s indescribable for a win in March of this crazy season,” Rockets coach Stephen Silas said. “I’m just so proud of the guys. When you’re going through it and fighting so hard, you just see the disappointment in the player’s faces after loss after loss after loss. And then to go into the locker room after (Monday’s) game and everybody is just happy and joyous, it’s really super cool and great.”

–Field Level Media