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Preview: Gordon Hayward returns to lineup as Hornets face 76ers

The veteran forward is back after missing 22 games with a left ankle injury.

Charlotte Hornets v Philadelphia 76ers Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images

What: Charlotte Hornets (40-37) at Philadelphia 76ers (46-30)

When: 12:30 p.m. EST

Where: Wells Fargo Center; Philadelphia, Pa.

How to watch: Bally Sports Southeast, NBA League Pass

Injury report

CHA: None. (Finally!)

PHI: None.

The Charlotte Hornets take on the Philadelphia 76ers, losers of three-straight, in a Saturday matinee that will feature Gordon Hayward’s return to the lineup, per The Charlotte Observer’s Rod Boone.

Hayward has been sidelined since he suffered the aforementioned left ankle injury against the Toronto Raptors on Feb. 7. The Hornets went on an ensuing tailspin that lasted the entire month of February but have more than righted the ship as of late, toting the second-best offense in the NBA and a top-seven net-rating over a 10-4 stretch that began on March 2. Charlotte is peaking at the right time, and now welcomes one of their best players back to the rotation.

The starting lineup for this afternoon has yet to be revealed; Hayward coming back to his usual starting spot makes sense from a coaching perspective, but whether he needs to be ramped up with a smaller role off the bench remains to be seen. The current starting lineup has played well together, and the Miles Bridges-PJ Washington duo has a +7.5 net rating (88th percentile) in over 2,200 possessions together this season per Cleaning The Glass.

Still, Hayward was the most efficient volume scorer on the team prior to injury as one of two Hornets (Washington) shooting 60 percent at the rim, 40 percent from mid-range and 35 percent from deep. Neither option should be a detriment to James Borrego’s rotation.

The Sixers have lost their last three games, the last of which was an utter collapse as they entered the fourth with a six-point lead over Detroit and lost by seven after scoring 15 points in the quarter. Joel Embiid is willing Philadelphia into a top seed in the Eastern Conference, but there isn’t much in the way of help beyond James Harden and Tyrese Maxey. Even Harden, as great as he’s been at times, is shooting a career-low 33.5 percent (6.9 3PA per game) from long-range this year and has looked particularly disengaged defensively.

Doc Rivers recently mentioned Harden *by name* in his post-game press conference as a reason to why Philadelphia folded against the Pistons. Less than 24 hours later, reports surfaced that Sixers players are “not feeling” Rivers anymore. Go figure.

The Hornets are catching a sliding Sixers team at the right time. Facing off against a potential playoff foe gives the players and coaches more confidence (or points of improvement) heading into the postseason, and a win would not only boost their position in the standings, but serve as yet another morale booster as the team reaches full health in time for a stretch run. This should be an exciting couple of weeks for Hornets fans.