Kings-Hornets Preview

The Charlotte Hornets’ winning streak just came to an end in embarrassing fashion, but they appear to be in good shape to start a new one with the lowly Sacramento Kings coming to town.

Having Kemba Walker back should also help.

Seeking a third consecutive win in the series, Charlotte tries to hand the Kings a fifth straight loss Wednesday night.

Walker is expected to see action in a reserve role and isn’t expected to play more than 20 minutes while working his way back into shape. He has missed the last 18 games following knee surgery.

Hornets coach Steve Clifford said Wednesday that once Walker is healthy he’ll pair him with Mo Williams, who has started in Walker’s absence, during key portions of the game because ”they’re two of our three best scorers.”

Walker was averaging 18.8 points, 5.2 assists and 3.8 rebounds per game before undergoing surgery Jan. 28 to repair a torn lateral meniscus in his left knee. He scored 54 points while shooting 19 of 32 in the two matchups with the Kings last season.

The Hornets (28-34) are neck-and-neck with Indiana and Miami for the Eastern Conference’s last two postseason spots, and they looked every bit like a playoff contender after opening March with a season high-tying five consecutive wins. However, they turned in one of their worst all-around efforts in Monday’s 95-69 loss to Washington.

Williams had 19 points but shot 6 of 18 – including 1 of 10 from 3-point range – as Charlotte matched its lowest scoring total of the season. The Hornets were outscored 54-24 in the paint, 20-0 in transition and 18-9 in the fourth quarter.

"Our guys want to win, but we played a tired game. We never found the energy level we needed to make a real run at the game," Clifford said.

"We need effort. We’re not the team that’s going to be low-energy to start and then hit six 3s to get going. We’re an effort-based team – defense, rebounding and execution on the offensive end. And if we don’t have those things we’re not going to be able to play well."

Charlotte was playing the second of a back-to-back and its eighth game in 13 nights.

"We can sit here and say we’re fatigued and all that stuff – and that may be true – but we’re not the only team in the NBA that’s been through these type of situations, and we can’t use that as an excuse," center Al Jefferson said. "No matter how tired we are, we can’t afford to have games like we just had."

The Hornets will try to bounce back against a Kings team that’s dropped 19 of 22 on the road. Sacramento (21-41) was blown out 130-105 at East-leading Atlanta on Monday.

The Kings were outscored 76-54 over the first two quarters en route to surrendering their most points this season. Sacramento held NBA-worst New York to 36.6 percent shooting in a 124-86 rout last Tuesday to open a season-high eight-game road trip, but it’s since allowed four opponents to shoot a combined 55.4 percent.

Rudy Gay stayed hot with 23 points against the Hawks, giving him 89 on 58.5 percent shooting over the last three games. DeMarcus Cousins, though, went 3 of 9 from the floor and finished with 12 points and 14 rebounds.

Cousins had a combined 56 points and 28 rebounds in two matchups with Charlotte last season, but Sacramento dropped both after winning the previous three in the series.

Williams has averaged 21.4 points and 8.5 assists in 10 games with the Hornets since coming over from Minnesota before the trade deadline.