Who: Charlotte Hornets (24-26) vs Washington Wizards (22-26)
Where: Time Warner Cable Arena, Charlotte, NC
When: 7 p.m. EST
How: FOX Sports South, WFNZ 610 AM
The Charlotte Hornets suffered a disappointing loss to the Miami Heat last night and have a chance to bounce back with a win against the Washington Wizards tonight.
This will be the third of a four-game home stand, as well as the Hornets' third-last game before All-Star Weekend. They're just two games below .500 and are two games out of the eighth seed. With the roster mostly healthy, the Hornets should be able to finish the season strong and make the playoffs. But every game counts.
The Hornets have played the Wizards twice this season, losing one and winning the other. Neither team was particularly healthy in either of those matchups. Tonight, the Hornets are only missing Al Jefferson, while the Wizards continue to be without Nene and Kris Humphries. The Wizards, much like the Hornets, are much better than their record suggests; they've just been hurt.
Luckily for them, John Wall is wholly capable of leading shallow teams to victory on his own. That requires a few other things to fall in place — namely teammates making their open looks and the Wizards locking down on defense — but there's no doubt that Wall is talented enough to will his team to a win if he gets hot.
Things to watch for
The point guard rotation
Head coach Steve Clifford blamed the Hornets' second unit for their loss against the Heat, and Jeremy Lin — 1-of-6 from the field in 16 minutes and -14 for the game — was part of that group. Everyone has a rough game from time to time, and in this situation it's a bit of a bonus that Lin didn't play much yesterday. He'll be fresh tonight, and it's rare for him to have two poor outings in a row. That's important, as the Hornets will need his pesky defense to help contain Wall. Kemba Walker can't do it alone. Wall's just too big and too fast.
Wall's averages against the Hornets this season — 20 points and nine assists — are right in line with his season averages. Let's hope the Hornets can limit his impact, especially on offense. Clifford might need to throw different matchups at him to get it done. The key is to not let Wall touch the ball (easier said than done, I know), as he's the only Wizard to be assisted on fewer than 50 percent of his made shots. The Wizards offense depends extremely heavily on him to create offense.
The Wizards score a league-high 18.5 percent of their points in transition, in large part thanks to Wall. But Ramon Sessions and Garrett Temple also push the break. There's so much speed and athleticism in the Wizards' backcourt that we might see Clifford discourage Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Cody Zeller from pursuing offensive boards in favor of getting back in transition.
The Wizards also force a ton of turnovers — 16.6 per game — which again is a testament to their athleticism and length. However, if this game becomes one of halfcourt sets and drawn plays, the Hornets stand a decent chance of winning.
The Wizards allow opponents to shoot a league-worst 38.5 percent from behind the arc this season. The Hornets are shooting an uncharacteristically low 33.6 percent on 3-pointers over their last five games, with Nicolas Batum and Spencer Hawes shooting 31.8 percent and 21.4 percent, respectively, over that stretch. Batum did hit four of his seven attempts against the Heat, however. Hopefully, that's a sign of him finding his rhythm and not a fluke.
Games can get out of hand in a hurry if a team hits a few consecutive bombs from deep, and the Wizards are perhaps the easiest team in the league to do that against. Pray to the basketball gods for a shooter's roll on every 3-point attempt.