Struggling Hornets gear up for Kings
SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- Their coach hasn't walked the sidelines in three weeks because of a health issue. Their leading scorer is struggling to find the center of the basket. And they haven't won back-to-back contests during a 5-12 stretch that stretches back to Nov. 24.
Ordinarily, the Charlotte Hornets might be the right visitor at the right time for the Sacramento Kings.
Given how things have gone lately, though, the Hornets just might be the wrong one.
Charlotte (13-23), the 12th-place team in the Eastern Conference, will face Sacramento (12-24) on Monday night at the Golden 1 Center. The Hornets arrive with a limp as noticeable as those of the Memphis Grizzlies and the Phoenix Suns, the previous two sub-.500 teams that came to town.
Those contests worked out to the tune of two Kings losses by a total of 28 points, the most recent a 114-96 beating by the Grizzlies on Sunday that wasn't that close. Memphis led by 30 points during parts of the second half.
"Lack of focus," Kings coach Dave Joerger called it. "Lack of force."
The loss kept up Sacramento's recent trend of playing up or down to the level of competition. The Kings won their final two games on a recent four-game East Coast road trip, but they have lost three of their past four home games. They have three dates left on a six-game homestand that will match a season high.
The only home victory in the recent stretch came Dec. 27 against the three-time defending Eastern Conference champion Cleveland Cavaliers.
"Just the life and the energy and some pop," Joerger said Sunday when asked about what ails his team. "We need some of that."
The Kings also could use some better shooting. They labored through a 43 percent shooting day against Memphis and are connecting at a 46 percent clip over their past five games.
They aren't expected to have rookie point guard De'Aaron Fox for the seventh consecutive game because of a torn quadriceps muscle. Backup rookie point guard Frank Mason did not play in the final three quarters against the Grizzlies after sustaining a left heel injury, and he will miss the Tuesday game.
The Hornets have been playing without center Cody Zeller (left knee surgery) since Dec. 6, but their biggest health scare concerns their coach. Steve Clifford, 56, hasn't been on the sideline since Dec. 1 because of an undisclosed health issue. The Hornets are 5-10 under the direction of interim coach Stephen Silas.
"I just try to do it day to day," Silas, the son of former Hornets coach Paul Silas, told the Boston Globe. "I don't know how long it's going to last. I really am enjoying coaching the team. The team has been great to me as far as responding to coaching and not treating me like a substitute teacher."
The Hornets have enjoyed a revival season from center Dwight Howard, who is averaging 15.6 points, his best output in three seasons, and 12.3 rebounds. He is expected to be named to his ninth All-Star Game.
Leading Charlotte scorer Kemba Walker is averaging 21.6 points. He made 11 of 21 shots in the Hornets' 106-98 loss at the Los Angeles Clippers on Sunday but shot only 36 percent in the three previous games.
Updated January 1, 2018