Charlotte Hornets

Kemba Walker was missing his magic Wednesday, and it made the Hornets ... happy

Michael Kidd-Gilchrist on return from injury

Charlotte Hornets forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist on what he missed in a 6-game absence with an ankle sprain.
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Charlotte Hornets forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist on what he missed in a 6-game absence with an ankle sprain.

Realistically, you can’t be ‘on’ every single night.

Score 60 one night, 43 the next, 41 or 39 on any given night, it’s impressive — but not sustainable. Even during his unanimous MVP season back in 2015-2016, Steph Curry had nights where he just didn’t have it.

And that’s OK, even expected, if we’re being honest. Expecting any one player, no matter how talented, to single-handedly carry his team in every single game ... well, it’s just not the most dependable offensive strategy.

So while Kemba Walker has absolutely carried the Charlotte Hornets through the first 20 or so games of this season, counting on him to replicate that every time he steps on the court is probably not the team’s best or most efficient option.

Walker warrants all the shots and minutes he earns — counting Wednesday’s 108-94 win over the Atlanta Hawks, he’s averaging 27.9 points in 35.1 minutes per game — but even his teammates realize the man needs a little help.

“Kemba’s going to draw so much attention — we know that, we know he can make big plays — but we can’t expect him to do that every night,” center Cody Zeller said Wednesday. “The rest of us have to contribute, as well.”

When addressing free agency in September, Kemba Walker said he wants to stay in Charlotte and help build an NBA winner. Jeff Siner

So on Wednesday, the second straight game in which Walker hasn’t had his best stuff, that’s exactly what the rest of the Hornets did. Zeller finished Wednesday’s win with a season-high 19 points, and Walker’s backcourt mate Jeremy Lamb had a team-high 22. Then factor in Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Frank Kaminsky’s contributions off the bench, and you’ve got something that hasn’t been evident for much of this Hornets season.

The team won despite Kemba Walker’s poor shooting.

Walker shot his way to 19 points by the end of the game, but did so going an unusually poor 6-of-19 from the field. His lone 3 didn’t come until 5 minutes left in the third quarter, and he missed four of his 10 free throws on top of that.

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Tack that onto his 3-of-12 performance in Monday’s victory over the Milwaukee Bucks (although he did shoot 16 free throws that game), and the past two games the Hornets have found ways to win without Walker’s heroics.

And that’s one of the more encouraging things coach James Borrego could ask for, especially for a group hoping to return to the NBA playoffs after a two-season hiatus.

“You’re going to win multiple ways, and you’ve gotta find ways,” Borrego said postgame. “You look at all our wins, and someone’s stepping up. You know, it might be Lamb one night, it might be Cody one night, Tony Parker one night, right? Bacon had a big game here at home a couple games ago, Monk has closed games for us — we’re a deep team, and I believe in these guys.

“We believe in these guys, and they’re trusting each other. You never know who it’s going to be on a given night. Obviously Kemba has been the steady force throughout the season.”

On Monday against the Bucks, it was Parker and Kidd-Gilchrist who proved the difference. Wednesday, it was Kaminsky and Zeller. Friday against Utah, might it be Nic Batum? Or perhaps Miles Bridges, or Marvin Williams?

Who knows?

Maybe, that’s the best way to approach things.

“We’ve got a lot of weapons on this team, a lot of guys that can do different stuff” Batum said. “It was Frank and Cody tonight, tomorrow maybe it’ll be somebody else. We’ll see. You can’t predict it.

“That’s what I like so much about this team: We don’t predict anything — we just play the game and see what happens.”

Before the two most recent wins, the fewest points Walker had scored in a Hornets victory was 16 against Indianapolis ... but he did so on 5-of-10 shooting, converting 2-of-3 3-pointers. It’s not necessarily just the points that matter, is the point. It’s how Walker, and everyone else on the team, is going about getting those.

After falling behind in the first quarter against Atlanta, the Hornets went on a spectacular 15-4 run to regain a lead they wouldn’t relinquish. But in the game during that stretch? No Walker, no Williams, no Batum.

Charlotte Hornets forward Miles Bridges and other players other than Kemba Walker stepped up during the team’s 108-94 win over the Atlanta Hawks on Wednesday. Jeff Siner

Try Parker, and then Kaminsky, the rookie Bridges, and second-year players Monk and Dwayne Bacon.

Batum joked after the game about Walker’s ability to score 60 every night — “Why not?” he grinned — but he also acknowledged that this team does have the requisite other options on nights when Walker’s shots aren’t falling like normal.

But perhaps the most telling part of Wednesday’s victory, and of this Hornets team learning to win without superhuman point guard play, came from Walker himself.

“It was kind of a struggle for a lot of us shooting the basketball, kind of a struggle for me obviously,” Walker said. “But you know, other guys stepped up. J-Lamb has an awesome game, Cody, he was unbelievable tonight.

“It was a good team win.”

Team being the operative word.

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