The numbers don’t bowl you over. Charlotte Hornets guard Nic Batum averages 15.1 points, 5.8 assists and 7.4 rebounds.
But if you watched how this team struggled after he hyper-extended his right knee against the Detroit Pistons Jan. 5, you have more conviction than ever that Batum is this team’s nerve center.
That’s not to say the Hornets would have won at San Antonio or Houston – two of the better teams in the Western Conference . But they were in both games, and Batum’s all-around impact might have pushed them over the top.
“I can’t say enough about how much this team needs Nic Batum,” power forward Marvin Williams said Thursday after practice.
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“Not only offensively what he brings to the table for himself and the rest of us, but defensively as well. He’s such a smart player, such a great player, on both ends of the floor.
“When you (lose) a guy like that, who does so many things, the team does struggle a little bit in his absence. If he’s back out there, it will make a huge difference.”
Batum practiced Thursday. He participated in both drills and scrimmaging. He ran well and moved side-to-side. He has put off truly testing his knee in jumping situations until shootaround Friday morning in Philadelphia.
If that goes well, he intends to play against the 76ers, a game the Hornets need. They are in a three-game losing streak and have drifted from fourth in the Eastern Conference (which would convey home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs) to seventh at 20-19.
“I was able to get through practice today, able to run,” Batum said. “We’ll see about tomorrow night.”
Batum was under the basket against the Pistons in the second half, when the biggest player on the court toppled into his knee.
“Roy landed on me,” Batum said, referring to teammate Roy Hibbert, a 7-foot-2, 270-pound center . “He’s a big guy, so. ...”
So the Hornets were fortunate the damage wasn’t more severe. It was a huge relief the next day when an MRI showed no structural damage to his knee.
Sitting out two games gave Batum the opportunity to reflect on what has been troubling the Hornets in their recent decline. He said the problem is identifiable and fixable.
“Everything – rebounds, positioning, transition defense, everything,” Batum said of the slippage defensively.
The Hornets have allowed 112 or more points in five of their past six games.
“The way we run back on defense. We worked on that, particularly on video the past two or three days,” Batum said. “In the Houston game, the fast-break numbers were 25-2 (in favor of the Rockets) and we were still up by one with two minutes to go. Transition defense has to be a huge deal for us.”
Bonnell: 704-358-5129; Twitter: @rick_bonnell