With a six-game road trip incoming, the Charlotte Hornets will be tested by the play of the youth and the injuries to Cody Zeller and Jeremy Lamb.
The Charlotte Hornets (18-19) head out west for the team’s longest road trip of the 2018-2019 season starting tonight at 5:00 PM ET with a battle against the team with the best record in the Western Conference, the Denver Nuggets (25-11) at Pepsi Center.
Charlotte’s attempt to create some momentum prior to the trip to the “wild wild west” was halted by a trifecta of tough breaks over the past week. Starting with injuries to two members of the starting five, followed by a 38 point home loss to the Dallas Mavericks, and topped off with trade rumors of shopping Nicolas Batum and Frank Kaminsky being reported by Sporting News.
It is true that long road trips for many teams are already an extremely difficult task but this trip for the Hornets may be one that defines how this team approaches the second half of the season and potential roster changes.
During this road trip, the Charlotte Hornets will be without starting center Cody Zeller who underwent a successful hand surgery and will miss 4-6 weeks according to Head Coach James Borrego. JB will also face the difficult task of distributing Jeremy Lamb‘s minutes if he can not play over the course of the next few games.
While Lamb is listed as day-to-day with a right hamstring strain there is no guarantee he plays at all over the road trip.
The first attempt at distributing the minutes of the team’s second leading scorer was seen Wednesday night as rookie point guard Devonte’ Graham was inserted into the starting lineup at the two-guard spot, which kept former lottery pick Malik Monk with the second unit.
Coach Borrego stated in his post game presser on December 31st that he preferred to keep Monk with the second unit due to the chemistry of the league’s 3rd best scoring bench. However, many fans wanted to see the 2017 Jerry West Award winner make his first NBA start.
Wednesday night debuted the first experiment with Graham in the starting lineup and Monk receiving “Sixth Man” minutes. The experiment did not go to plan as Monk picked up an early injury to his ankle in the game vs Dallas.
Though Monk was able to return in the second half the flow of the game prevented the rotation to ever take the shape that Borrego intended. Another opportunity presents itself over the road trip to see who truly is the next man up to play along side All-Star point guard Kemba Walker.
While questions did surface about who would take Lamb’s minutes, it was more than clear who would take the minutes of Cody Zeller. As the 2017 first team All-Rookie Willy Hernangomez has proven he is more than capable of starting for Charlotte.
Though the biggest question within the last 48 hours for the Hornets has been who will take “El Toro’s” minutes with the second unit amid trade rumors of Frank Kaminsky and potentially Bismack Biyombo.
The Hornets have trotted out Michael Kidd-Gilchrist to play minutes at center this season, and if Borrego decides to play MKG at the five, it will open up the floor for Miles Bridges, Malik Monk, and Devonte’ Graham to see extended minutes throughout the road trip.
How Borrgeo chooses the rotation over the next week could be a tell tale sign of what is to come and if fans should expect the Hornets to make a trade before the deadline that involves Kamnisky, Batum, or Biyombo within the near future.
The road trip presents a difficult task for both the team and its fans, Charlotte will face five teams that are .500 or better on the road trip with the only team under .500 being the Phoenix Suns.
Outside of the competition itself, this is a young team and coaching staff that is set to deal with trade rumors and injuries to starters for the first time under the Borrego regime. How will the team deal with this adversity? How do the veterans in the looker room step up? Will the young guns make the most of their opportunity?
Will this be a road trip where the Charlotte Hornets stay the course of being at .500 team or will a very poor or very good road trip force the hand of the front office to make a roster change?
A lot of questions will be asked by the fans before, during and after this potential season defining road trip for the Hornets.
The Purple and Teal will play games in five different states, and conclude the road trip Monday January 14th vs the San Antonio Spurs as veteran point guard Tony Parker will make his return to San Antonio where he spent 15 seasons. The Hornets road trip lasts nine days, and will return home on the 17th to face the Sacramento Kings at Spectrum Center.