MILWAUKEE — It’s tough enough to face the same team on back-to-back nights with a three-hour flight in between, but take two All-Stars out of the starting lineup, and the task gets enough tougher.
The Charlotte Hornets are bracing themselves for that scenario after losing Dwight Howard and Kemba Walker during the course of a 109-104 loss to the Bucks in Milwaukee on Friday night and face the Bucks again Saturday night in Charlotte.
Howard was lost early in the opening period with a dislocated left ring finger. He tried to stay in the game but nothing seemed to keep the finger in place and he headed to the locker room after logging only four minutes.
“I have no idea what happened,” Howard said. “I went to take the ball out, I looked down and my finger was bent all the way to the side. They put it back in place, I went back in to play, but it just kept popping out.”
Walker was having a big night and had scored 32 points before suffering an undisclosed injury midway through the fourth quarter. He wasn’t on the court in the closing moments when the Bucks pulled ahead with a 9-0 run.
“I’m not sure (what happened),” interim coach Stephen Silas said.
Walker didn’t speak after the game but a team spokesperson said Walker would be examined in the morning after the team returns to Charlotte.
The Hornets were also without Treveon Graham, who missed a third straight game because of back spasms.
The status of all three is up in the air for Saturday’s rematch, pending evaluations Saturday morning.
Regardless of who is or isn’t on the court, the Hornets will need to find some way to stop Milwaukee’s three-headed monster of Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton and Eric Bledsoe who combined for 78 points and had 22 of the Bucks’ 26 fourth quarter points.
“Guys just have to step up,” forward Johnny O’Bryant said. “This is a make or break league and we have some really talented young guys who will be ready. Whatever the situation is, we just have to go out there and compete.”
Bucks coach Jason Kidd tried to manage his starters’ minutes with the back-to-back slate in mind but each of the ‘Big 3’ played at least 35 minutes.
But after spending the last few weeks playing with a short bench, Kidd will have more weapons at his disposal Saturday as Matthew Dellavedova and Tony Snell are back from knee injuries and Sean Kilpatrick, signed earlier this week to a two-way contract, showed he can provide off the bench with five points in 10 minutes Friday.
“He gave us a spark,” Kidd said. “I think the first time he touched it, he knocked down that corner three and I thought that got the guys motivated and I thought it got the fans into the game.”
Milwaukee has won two of the first three meetings with Charlotte this season. Saturday’s matchup marks the last time the teams will face off in the regular season.