Get used to Brad Wanamaker and Cody Martin in the fourth quarter. This Charlotte Hornets rotation is now a patchwork quilt.
That’s not because coach James Borrego is doing improv, though he is known for the occasional sudden shift in personnel. This is of necessity and it might last for weeks. Injuries have turned the Hornets upside-down.
“This is what our season has been about,” Borrego said after a 114-97 road victory over the Indiana Pacers. “We’re built for this.”
A slight edit: They’re conditioned to this. The Hornets lost star rookie LaMelo Ball seven games ago to a broken wrist. They lost bench scorer Malik Monk Thursday in Brooklyn to a sprained ankle.
Then, late in the first half Friday, they lost leading scorer Gordon Hayward to a sprained foot.
Ball figures to be out at least another month and Borrego said Monk will miss a minimum of two weeks. The Hornets don’t know yet about Hayward, who was having a tremendous game before the injury — 13 points, eight rebounds and six assists in 19 minutes.
The Hornets offense is under siege from all these injuries. So forward Miles Bridges — known more for grit and defense this season — jumped in to be a shooter, making four of seven 3s for a team-high 23 points.
Bridges knows points must be fabricated somehow the next few weeks. Rather than panic, he reminded reporters post-game that every NBA player has something distinctive in common:
“Everybody comes from being the man somewhere,” Bridges said.
While Bridges is right — every NBA player is world-class in his sport — Borrego is dipping deep into the roster. Wanamaker, who was traded off Golden State’s roster in a salary dump, played 30 minutes Friday. While Wanamaker isn’t particularly dynamic, he’s solid and reliable. He finished this game with 13 points and four assists.
“He does what vets do,” Bridges said of Wanamaker picking up the Hornets system on the quick. “He’s comfortable with us and we’re comfortable with him.”
Even before Hayward’s injury, Borrego said pre-game that he’ll experiment going forward in search of points. That came after the Hornets scored a season-low 89 in Thursday’s loss to the Nets. That means three-guard lineups, more P.J. Washington at center and exploring deep into the roster for help.
When Hayward couldn’t start the second half, Borrego moved Bridges into the starting lineup at small forward. That’s no big adjustment for Bridges, but it did mean other changes, including playing Martin 19 minutes.
The Hornets didn’t know post-game whether Hayward’s injury is serious. No doubt he wants to play Sunday in Boston, his first game against the Celtics since he opted out of his contract and left for the Hornets.
James Borrego: ‘We’re not going anywhere’
Friday’s victory kept the 25-23 Hornets in fourth place in the Eastern Conference and clinched a tiebreaker over the Pacers. That tiebreaker might sound trivial, considering Indiana is 21-26, but with just 3 1/2 games separating fourth from ninth, everything counts.
The Hornets prevailed Friday because they guarded intensely (the Pacers shot 40% from the field) and they didn’t beat themselves (10 turnovers to the Pacers’ 20).
Borrego knows he’s in scramble mode until one or more of his top offensive players returns. But for a coach with so many challenges right now, he sounds anything but flustered.
“This group will not give in,” Borrego concluded.
“We’re here to stay. We’re not going anywhere.”