Hobbled Hornets host Blazers, who are sixth in the West

NBA

The Portland Trail Blazers have navigated a game without their star player. The Charlotte Hornets are trying to find the right mix with roster adjustments as well.

Player availability tends to be a major theme for many teams, including these two clubs as they prepare to meet Sunday night in Charlotte, N.C.

The Hornets have a four-game losing streak for the second time this season. They’d like to avoid their first five-game skid of the season.

The Trail Blazers overcame the absence of leading scorer Damian Lillard to win their most recent game, so that’s a bolt of confidence for a team aiming to maintain its position in the Western Conference playoff pecking order.

Portland, which is in sixth place in the West, topped the host San Antonio Spurs 107-106 on Friday night behind CJ McCollum’s 29 points.

“I was trying to be aggressive, trying to get to the basket,” McCollum said.

While Lillard has been a dominant scorer for the Trail Blazers, McCollum has led Portland in scoring in two of its past three games. Lillard averages 28.7 points per game but sat out Friday because of a hamstring ailment.

The Trail Blazers haven’t won back-to-back games since ending March with four consecutive victories.

“Stay aggressive, continue to defend, get out in transition and make the game easy and fun,” McCollum said of the approach moving forward.

Miles Bridges scored a career-high 33 points for Charlotte in its 130-115 setback Friday night at Brooklyn. Even with four straight defeats, there have been encouraging moments for the Hornets, who finally got their offense untracked and led by as many as 14 points in the first half.

“More than anything, I just liked the competitive spirit against a top-tier team that’s competing for an NBA title,” Hornets coach James Borrego said.

The performance for Bridges, who has received attention in recent weeks because of impressive dunks, was a well-rounded contribution.

“Just really proud of how he has responded with guys out of the lineup,” Borrego said.

Also helping to pick up some of the slack for Charlotte might be rookie center Vernon Carey Jr., who scored 21 points in his first NBA start. The one-year college player at Duke has appeared in only 11 NBA games.

“Based on what I saw (in Brooklyn), I have to look very hard at Vernon,” Borrego said. “This is why we drafted him. We’ve been eager to see it out there. Now can he build on it, can he grow?”

With injuries piling up, the topic of Carey’s role had been brought up recently. Borrego generally pointed to the center’s lack of experience and the challenge of developing newcomers amid the protocols in place because of the pandemic.

“If he has this kind of impact, I’d be foolish not to give him more minutes,” Borrego said.

The Hornets had good contributions around Carey, something that Borrego viewed as being crucial to aiding the starting lineup’s newcomer. Devonte’ Graham and P.J. Washington were among Charlotte players missing Friday’s game, joining LaMelo Ball, Gordon Hayward and Malik Monk — who’ve been out for extended periods.

The Trail Blazers upended the Hornets 123-111 on March 1 in Portland in a game that now-injured rookie guard LaMelo Ball of the Hornets scored 30 points.

In slightly more than a month’s time, the Trail Blazers are 6-3 in road games. Returning home is no sure-fire tonic for Charlotte, which lost the first three games of its current skid on its home court.

–Field Level Media

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