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Hornets seek must-win in visit to the Kings

In their second game back from the All-Star break, the Hornets look for answers as they try to get back on track with visit to the Kings.

Since ringing in the new year, not much has worked for the Charlotte Hornets as they’ve gone 5-18 in that stretch. Although not fully healthy still, many thought the All-Star break would be a reset button for the remaining 26 games.

Unfortunately, the team’s bad habits were more present than ever in the first game back from the break, as they lost in overtime on the road to the Detroit Pistons, 114-108. There were some positives to take away from Thursday’s game, but ultimately, giving up an 18-point lead is as backbreaking as it gets.

In the last game before the break, the Hornets similarly gave up a 17-point lead at the start of the fourth quarter to the Toronto Raptors.

Next up are the Sacramento Kings. While thankful to play one of the league’s most depleted rosters, any win recently has been hard to come by.

On the night of the All-Star game, the Kings decided to trade away their franchise player in DeMarcus Cousins and role player Omri Casspi to the New Orleans Pelicans in one of the worst trades in recent NBA memory. In return, the Kings received rookie Buddy Hield, Tyreke Evans, Langston Galloway, a 2017 top-three protected first round pick and a 2017 second round pick.

Strangely enough, the Kings also decided against trading anyone else before the deadline, where they would’ve been able to compile a few more draft picks or assets.

As for the game tonight, the Kings are coming off an impressive 116-100 win over the Denver Nuggets in their first Cousins-less game. It’s fair to assume the Kings will fade pretty fast considering their current roster, but the win over the Nuggets saw multiple players contribute at a high level, including most of their young talent.

Willie Cauley-Stein broke out with a career night, scoring 29 points and adding 10 rebounds, while rookies Hield and Skal Labissiere contributed 16 and 12 respectively.

Listed as doubtful for tonight’s game, it appears Cody Zeller will miss his 12th game in 13 tries. On the season, the Hornets are 2-16 when Zeller doesn’t appear in the lineup. Therefore, Cauley-Stein could prove to be a matchup nightmare for the Hornets, who will also be missing Miles Plumlee due to a strained right calf.

However, it does mean that newly signed Johnny O’Bryant III might get a chance to impress early in his 10-day contract. O’Bryant spent his first two seasons with the Milwaukee Bucks, and recently played in seven games for the Nuggets on two 10-day contracts. He also played in this year’s D-League All-Star game as a representative of the Northern Arizona Suns.

In looking for answers, the Hornets desperately need the starting five to play a full game. Down the stretch of games and in clutch-game situations, the Hornets have been incapable of defending well enough to win. On the offensive side, the ball has continued to stick as the team is often settling for jump shots.

Fatigue is a reasonable assumption to the recent struggles in the fourth quarter, but even then, Kemba Walker is able to carry the team like he did in the loss to the Pistons.

Walker desperately needs contributions from Nicolas Batum and Marvin Williams, who haven’t performed as needed in late-game situations. Also, while he didn’t play his best game against the Pistons, a continued solid output from Frank Kaminsky could prove to be vital as he’s played considerably well since starting for the injured Zeller.

Tonight’s game will be the second of a six-game road trip, and wins are needed now more than ever if the team wants to stay relevant in the playoff picture. On the season, the Hornets are 8-20 on the road, and find themselves three and half games back from the eighth seed.

In the first meeting between these two teams back on January 28, the Hornets fell at home 109-106. Fortunately, the Hornets won’t have to deal with Cousins who scored 35 points and grabbed 18 rebounds that night.

Tip-off is at 5:00 p.m. and will also be aired on NBA TV outside of the regional broadcasts.