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Ball, Hornets hope to bounce back vs Thunder

/ 09:17 PM December 26, 2020
LaMelo Ball Charlotte Hornets

LaMelo Ball #2 of the Charlotte Hornets dribbles during the third quarter of their game against the Toronto Raptors at Spectrum Center on December 14, 2020 in Charlotte, North Carolina. Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images/AFP

After a forgettable debut, rookie guard LaMelo Ball is hoping for a better performance on Saturday when the Charlotte Hornets host the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Ball, the No. 3 overall pick in 2020 NBA Draft, went scoreless in Wednesday’s 121-114 loss to Cleveland. He missed all five of his shots from the floor and had three turnovers in 16 minutes.

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“I told him just to forget this one,” veteran Gordon Hayward said of Ball’s debut. “Some days are diamonds, some days are stones.”

Ball was the first top-three pick to be held scoreless in his NBA debut since Otto Porter Jr. in 2013, and just the fourth in the last 15 seasons, joining Porter, Hasheem Thabeet and Greg Oden.

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Porter has bounced back to a solid career, while Oden and Thabeet combined for just 329 career games.

Ball and Hayward are key to Charlotte’s hopes of making the playoffs — and posting a winning record — for the first time since 2016.

Hayward signed a four-year $120-million contract in the offseason as part of a sign-and-trade with Boston.

Hayward had 28 points and seven assists in the opener after missing the final two preseason games with a broken finger.

The Thunder are one of two NBA teams who enter Saturday without having played a game.

Oklahoma City’s scheduled season opener in Houston on Wednesday was postponed after the Rockets were left without the league-required eight players available due to COVID-19 testing and contact tracing protocol.

“We were expecting to get out there and get it going,” Oklahoma City’s Al Horford said. “But at the same time, I think the NBA is really trying to put our health first. It’s something that’s tough, but it felt like it was the right decision.”

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Horford is one of the few veterans on the rebuilt Thunder.

Oklahoma City overhauled its roster in the offseason, going into full rebuild mode after last season’s surprise fifth-place finish in the Western Conference.

The Thunder traded Chris Paul, Steven Adams, Danilo Gallinari, Dennis Schroder, Terrance Ferguson and Abdel Nader in the offseason, mostly stockpiling draft picks and young players.

Only five players remain from last year’s roster, and only 22-year-old Hamidou Diallo is from the 2018-19 roster.

The Thunder have won four consecutive meetings, with Charlotte’s last victory since coming in December 2017. Malik Monk is the only player remaining on either roster from the Hornets’ last win against Oklahoma City.

The Hornets will be without starting center Cody Zeller, who fractured his left hand in the loss to Cleveland.

Zeller is expected to miss four to six weeks, according to a report from ESPN.

Zeller missed just two games last season after injuries the previous two seasons limited him to just 82 games the previous two seasons combined.

Bismack Biyombo is likely to replace Zeller in the lineup. Rookies Vernon Carey Jr. and Nick Richards, neither of whom played in the opener, are possibilities for reserve minutes.

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TAGS: Charlotte Hornets, Gordon Hayward, LaMelo Ball, NBA, Oklahoma City Thunder
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