All-Star point guard Kemba Walker, the Charlotte Hornets’ leading scorer, will be back Monday night against the Orlando Magic at Spectrum Center.
However, the status of coach Steve Clifford is iffy; Clifford missed morning shootaround with an illness. If Clifford can’t coach Monday night, associate head coach Stephen Silas will be in charge.
Walker missed the Hornets’ last two games with a contusion on his left shoulder, suffered against the San Antonio Spurs Nov. 25. Walker fully practiced Sunday, and said at shootaround he should be fine to play against the Magic.
“I felt pretty good. (The injury is) one of those things that is nagging,” said Walker, who practiced Sunday with padding on his shoulder.. “It’s just there at this point. I’m ready to go. It didn’t feel worse.”
Teammate Marvin Williams said Walker is so tough, he’d try to play with a broken arm, if he could. Missing losses at Toronto and Miami (the Hornets are on a four-game losing streak) clearly ate at him.
“I just hate to miss games,” Walker said. “It sucks. I hate to be on the sideline watching when I know I can help my teammates.”
It appeared Walker was doing some coaching during timeouts in Miami.
“Try to help guys get through their mistakes,” Walker said. “Help guys with certain things they don’t know; when they make mistakes on the defensive end, help (for) the next time they’re in that situation.”
Eight in a row
The Hornets have an eight-game winning streak against Orlando. However, the Magic (10-14) have shown some progress this season. They spread the floor well with power forward Aaron Gordon and center Nik Vucevic both possessing 3-point range. The Hornets have struggled against teams with big men with shooting range this season (losses to the Boston Celtics and Cleveland Cavaliers).
“They have a ton of talent over there. It starts with a defensive mentality; we have to slow them down,” said Williams.
The Magic is top-10 in the NBA in points per game, field-goal percentage and 3-point percentage.
Williams was asked what’s been missing during the 8-13 Hornets’ four-game losing streak.
“The will to finish a game out. We’ve put ourselves in a position (to win) all season, at home and on the road. We just haven’t finished; one or two plays where the other team has taken advantage. The next thing you go from up one to down four or six.”
Williams said this team hasn’t come close to its best defensively:
“I don’t think anybody in that locker room thinks we have. Coach has told us since training camp we need to become a top-5 defensive team. I think everybody in that locker room knows that and believes that we can do that. We definitely have not done that.
“There’s still time to do that, but we can’t keep saying, ‘There’s still time,’ because you’ll look up and it’s mid-February and you’re scraping to make the playoffs. It’s got to start sooner than later.”
The Hornets are just 1-10 on the road, but 7-3 at home. Ten of the next 13 Hornets games are at Spectrum Center.
“You do have to go out on the road and win some games, if you want to be considered a playoff team,” Williams said. “To have 10 of 13 here at home, that is exciting.”
Bonnell: 704-358-5129: @rick_bonnell