The Charlotte Hornets enter the All-Star Break 27-26, and winners of four of their last five games. They have five more wins this season through 53 games than they did a season ago, and sit in 8th place after Detroit's loss to Denver.
Even after a poor month of January, and a seven game losing streak, the Hornets look like a playoff team again, and have momentum entering the the break. With 29 games remaining, here are a few things on my mind as the Hornets get a week off:
MKG's injury is a terrible loss, but Hornets can overcome it
Because the basketball gods refuse to allow Hornets fans complete happiness, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist dislocated his right shoulder during last night's game in Indiana. Hornets fans could collectively write 10,000+ words on how much they hate this injury. The Hornets were 4-2 with MKG this season, beating the Cleveland Cavaliers and a Lebron James team for the first time in six seasons. The difference in play was clear.
However, this season's Hornets can overcome his absence. After an 0-3 start, the Hornets jumped out to a 15-10 start, and where briefly 2nd in the Eastern Conference earlier this season. Things began to fall apart as the injuries mounted, but their surprising start showed that a full-strength roster, minus MKG, could still compete in the East. That said, they cannot afford anymore significant injuries, or the remaining 29 games could mirror the first 53.
Al Jefferson should be the starter when he returns
The word is that Jefferson will be back after the All-Star break, and it makes sense that he returns as the starting center. There's already talk of life without Jefferson after this season, and the Hornets have shown they can overcome his absence as well with the emergence of Cody Zeller at center. Still, Jefferson remains the only credible post threat on the roster, which is an important piece to have in the Hornets' offense system.
His minutes distribution will be interesting, however. Playing 30+ minutes a night probably isn't in his best interest unless he's having a good night. Instead, splitting minutes with Zeller, and even Hawes to some extent, would be the best course initially, and depending on how he looks (is in shape, and does he stay healthy?) Clifford can re-examine how much he should play.
How will Frank Kaminsky play after the All-Star break?
Kaminsky hit the rookie wall the last few games leading up to the break, though he did have a solid game against the Pacers with 10 points and eight rebounds. Still, Kaminsky looked tired, which is expected, since many rookies tend to hit the wall around this point in the season. With a week off, it'll be interesting to see how a rested up Frank responds the rest of the season. His offensive game has grown nicely this season -- even when he doesn't finish a scoring chance, he's typically creating that shot through a strong NBA move. His defense is better than I expected as well. If Kaminsky can continue to improve as the season winds down, he could really improve the Hornets' playoff chances.
Does P.J. Hairston fill in as the starter again with MKG out?
This could be the case, given that Clifford likes Hairston's size when defending wings. That said, Hairston really didn't show enough, at least consistently, to find another role beyond being the Gary Gergich Honorary Starting Shooting Guard of the Hornets, so I wonder if Clifford will at least consider another option. Jeremy Lin filled in when Hairston or Nicolas Batum was out injured, so he's always a possibility. Jeremy Lamb looks best suited off the bench. Clifford could roll the dice on Troy Daniels, but he would essentially work the same way as Hairston, except he's probably not a good enough defender to warrant the starting nod, even if he can make up for it on offense with a couple of made 3-pointers. So Hairston will likely be the guy again, but hopefully not for too long.