Reigning NBA Rookie of the Year LaMelo Ball will be in Portland on Friday night and the Charlotte Hornets hope to have him on the floor when they face the Trail Blazers.
The Hornets announced late Thursday afternoon that Ball was rejoining the team and is questionable for the game. The flashy 20-year-old has missed Charlotte’s past six games due to his stint in COVID-19 protocols.
Earlier this week, Ball cleared the protocol and was sent to Greensboro of the G League for conditioning work.
“He’s significant for us because he creates a lot of the easy points,” Hornets coach James Borrego said of Ball on Wednesday. “The transition points, the easy stuff around the bucket or the rim, he generates those types of shots for us, just on his own.
“Obviously, we miss Melo and hopefully will get him back soon. But until then we’ve got to do it collectively.”
An appearance on Friday would be Ball’s first since Dec. 1, when he scored 36 points in a 127-125 loss to the host Milwaukee Bucks.
The Hornets have gone 3-3 in his absence. Among the players to step up and shoulder the load has been Gordon Hayward, who has efforts of 31 and 41 points among the past four games.
Hayward’s season-best 41 came in Wednesday’s 131-115 road win over the San Antonio Spurs. He made 15 of 19 from the field, including 5 of 6 from 3-point range, while falling three points shy of his career high.
“He’s special,” Borrego said of Hayward. “When he’s aggressive like that, when he plays with that fearless spirit, he’s a different player. He makes us go in a lot of ways. I’m really proud of him. I’m really happy for him. He’s been waiting for a breakout game like this. It’s been brewing.”
Charlotte could use Ball and a hot Hayward in Portland, where it has dropped 13 straight games since last winning during the 2007-08 season.
Meanwhile, the Trail Blazers would like to break out of a deep slump that has seen them drop seven straight games and 10 of their past 11.
Portland also has lost six straight home games and is 0-3 on the current four-game run at home.
The Trail Blazers lost 113-103 to Memphis on Wednesday night. The Grizzlies scored the first 14 points of the final quarter as part of a decisive 26-4 stretch.
“I just felt like at the start of that fourth quarter, they just turned it on, man, from a physicality standpoint,” Portland coach Chauncey Billups said afterward. “We ran a few plays, we couldn’t get the ball, we couldn’t catch it where we wanted to catch it. A lot of that — give them credit.”
Along with losing, the Trail Blazers also are ailing. CJ McCollum (collapsed lung) will miss his sixth straight game and big man Cody Zeller (knee) will miss his fifth in a row.
Damian Lillard recently returned from a five-game absence due to an abdominal injury and he has averaged 25.3 points in the three games. However, he is just 22 of 69 (31.9 percent) from the field during the stretch.
Lillard was 6 of 21 against the Grizzlies while scoring 21 points.
With Portland underachieving, Lillard is aware a turnaround is needed.
“I wouldn’t say that there’s any panic or anything like that,” Lillard said. “If we hadn’t been in these situations before, I think we’d be looking around like, man, what are we going to do? But we’ve come out of it many times.”
Charlotte posted a 125-113 home win over the Trail Blazers on Oct. 31. Ball had 27 points, nine rebounds and seven assists. McCollum led Portland with 25 points but Lillard had just 14 on 5-of-20 shooting.
–Field Level Media