Struggling Hornets still optimistic as Celtics await

Field Level Media

The Charlotte Hornets, sinking in the Eastern Conference playoff chase, decided to shake things up.

Coach James Borrego, his team having won just four of its past 15 games, went with a more youthful look Thursday night, when the Hornets responded with a 113-106 home victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Perhaps he will try the same strategy Saturday when Charlotte (32-39) plays host to the Boston Celtics (43-29).

"Right now, I'm taking it in one-game segments," Borrego said. "Right now, I like that lineup. I wanted to take a look at it."

That lineup included second-year player Dwayne Bacon at guard in place of 11th-year pro Nic Batum while continuing to feature rookie forward Miles Bridges, who posted his first career double-double (11 points, 12 rebounds).

Meanwhile, center Willy Hernangomez (only four appearances since Feb. 2) played 23 minutes off the bench, Malik Monk saw his second-most minutes (19) in more than a month and rookie point guard Devonte' Graham played for only the fourth time in more than a month.

"This isn't throw in the towel, we're out of the playoffs," Borrego said after the game.

"There is none of that going on right now. No. 1, we're trying to win every single game, just like we did tonight. We're not holding back. But I want to take a look at some different combinations and some different bodies out there, and I think that's what we're doing with this lineup change."

Charlotte's victory Thursday night pulled it within three games of the Miami Heat for the eighth and final playoff spot in the East.

The Celtics are mostly locked into a first-round 4-5 matchup against Indiana, although home court will be up for grabs down the stretch.

Boston star guard Kyrie Irving, who has scored at least 30 points in a career-high four consecutive games, has talked about sitting out some games to rest for the playoffs, so load management and health will be big topics for the Celtics in the final 10 games, with health taking priority over seeding.

"We don't want to look past these 10 games," said guard Terry Rozier, "but we're obviously getting prepared for the playoffs. Some guys may rest, but we got to get in that mindset right now. Once the playoffs are here, it's like, there are no taking steps back. We got to be ready from out the gate; fresh out the gate."

Forward Gordon Hayward has missed two games while in concussion protocol, although he is likely to return Saturday at Charlotte, or Sunday at home against the San Antonio Spurs, president of basketball operations Danny Ainge said Thursday in his weekly radio appearance on 98.5 The Sports Hub in Boston.

Ainge also seemed positive about center Aron Baynes, who suffered a Grade 2 ankle sprain in Wednesday's loss at Philadelphia. Baynes is critical to Boston's defense.

"I don't think it's going to be three weeks, but I think that it's just a day-to-day injury," Ainge said on radio. "We'll obviously be careful. We need everybody healthy by playoffs."

Boston is 2-1 against Charlotte this season, the most recent game a 126-94 home win for the Celtics on Jan. 30, when Irving was sitting out due to a hip injury.

--Field Level Media

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