By Kallan Louis
February 12, 2017
No matter how the remainder of the season turns out for Charlotte Hornets point guard Kemba Walker, he is having his best year as a pro. Averaging career-highs in points per game, field goal percentage and three-point field goal percentage. In January, he was named to his first all-star game and selected to participate in the three-point contest. The Hornets celebrated these milestones by hosting “Kemba Walker Night” against the Los Angeles Clippers.
With a number of pregame festivities planned, Buzz City arrived early to take advantage of the free giveaways including the Kemba Walker Starting Lineup figurines and spirit signs. Walker all-star merchandise went on sale at the fan shop and authentic jersey prices were slashed 50 percent. During shoot-arounds, general manager, Rich Cho, presented Walker with his 2017 NBA All-Star Game jersey.
Members of the Carolina Panthers showed their support as head coach Ron Rivera, tight end Greg Olsen and center Ryan Kalil were in the building.
UNC mens basketball coach Roy Williams, donning a Carolina blue vest, chatted with L.A. Clippers forward Paul Pierce during warmups. Back in September, Pierce, a 10-time all-star, 2008 NBA Finals champion and Finals MVP, announced he will retire at the end of this season. Williams coached him at the University of Kansas.
Williams was not the only Carolina basketball great at the Spectrum Center. Duke/UNC rivalry game alumni sprinkled the court. Hornets forward Marvin Williams and Clippers guard Raymond Felton were teammates on UNC’s 2005 NCAA National Championship squad, led by Coach Williams. Injured Clippers rookie forward Brice Johnson led UNC to the national championship game last year. For Duke, guards J.J. Reddick (yes, Tar Heel fans booed him throughout the game) and Austin Rivers are starters on the Clippers. Charlotte recently acquired Miles Plumlee, River’s college teammate, via trade.
As for the game, the Hornets battled but came up short, losing 107-102. It was close and competitive throughout with eight ties and three lead changes. The first double digit lead didn’t occur until the fourth quarter when Jamal Crawford drilled a three with 11 minutes left. Walker didn’t have the usual strong performance, only scoring 10 points, but Nic Batum had a game-high 26 points along with six rebounds and eight assists. Frank Kaminsky, who will participate in the Rising Stars Challenge during all-star weekend, poured in 20 points, eight rebounds and five assists and Marco Belinelli had a good game off the bench adding 17 points.
Crawford had a team-high 22 points for the Clippers and Blake Griffin was two assists shy of a triple double with 20 points, 12 rebounds and eight assists. First-time all-star DeAndre Jordan finished with 16 rebounds.
Down three with under a minute left, hopes of a Hornets victory dashed out the door when Griffin’s putback slam of a River’s miss pushed the lead back to five with 44 seconds left.
Winston-Salem native and former Wake Forest star point guard, Chris Paul, didn’t make the trip as he is recovering from thumb surgery.
The Hornets have been in a free fall recently. Once a top four seed in the Eastern Conference, they are currently battling for one of the final playoff spots. While many had higher expectations for this team, not all is lost. Charlotte is in a similar position as last year. Entering all-star weekend in 2016, the Hornets were 27-26 and eighth in the east. They surged in the second half of the regular season, finishing 48-34 and in a three-way tie for third place.
The Hornets will look to rebound and get healthy during the all-star break as they prepare for the playoff push. The Eastern Conference is tight again. A good second half of the season could put any east team sitting in spots nine through fourteen in the playoffs…sorry Brooklyn.
Check out the remaining 2017 Charlotte Hornets.