Hornets stumble in opener
Published 12:00 am Thursday, December 24, 2020
By Tom Withers
AP Sports Writer
CLEVELAND — LaMelo Ball summed up his NBA debut in one word.
“Disappointing,” he said.
The hyped Hornets rookie guard didn’t score in his first game for Charlotte and Cleveland pulled away in the first half and held on for a 121-114 victory Wednesday night in the Cavaliers’ first home regular-season game in nearly 300 days.
Collin Sexton scored 27 points, Darius Garland added 22 and the Cavs overcame a scorching shooting performance by Charlotte’s Terry Rozier, a Cleveland native who finished with a career-high 10 3-pointers and 42 points.
Beyond Ball’s rough night — he missed all five shots and didn’t play in the fourth quarter — Charlotte also suffered a major injury as center Cody Zeller broke his left hand.
“Cody is obviously going to miss some time and we need other guys to step up,” Hornets coach James Boorego said.
One of those would be Ball, the No. 2 overall pick in this year’s draft who has revived interest and hope in Charlotte. But Ball’s first performance didn’t go as he hoped. He missed all three 3-pointers and had three turnovers in 16 minutes.
“I was just having an off night,” said Ball, whose postgame Zoom interview was interrupted by someone who hacked into the feed.
“I told him just to forget this one,” said Hornets guard Gordon Hayward, who scored 28 points in his debut with Charlotte. “There is going to be so many nights where he is playing his game and playing really well. So I said don’t worry about this one at all. We all know the type of player that you are.”
Andre Drummond had 14 points and 14 rebounds and Larry Nance had 13 and 13 for Cleveland, which played without star forward Kevin Love. He’s out with a strained right calf. Cavs coach J.B. Bickerstaff was mostly pleased with his team’s performance but said there was plenty to clean up.
The biggest thing was just playing again.
“It’s everything you remember it to be,” said Bickerstaff, who had the Cavs playing their best ball last season when the pandemic stopped everything. “The spirit was like we never stopped.”
Rozier scored 36 points — 24 on 3s — in the second half to keep the Hornets within striking distance. They got within five in the final minute, but Sexton made three free throws to close it for the Cavs, who led by 18 with 3:32 left.
Rozier has scored 107 points in his last three games in Cleveland.
“I’m going to do what I do at the crib,” he said.
Cleveland took control with a 41-point second quarter, which featured a 21-4 spurt to close the half and included a two-handed slam dunk by rookie Isaac Okoro, who started. The Cavs shot 17 of 23 (74%) in the second quarter.
Hornets: Hayward is playing with a fractured pinkie finger on his right shooting hand. … It’s not clear when Zeller got hurt. … Ball went 0 for 3 on 3-pointers. … This debut went better than Hayward’s previous one in Cleveland. He broke his left leg in his first game with Boston here in 2017.
Cavaliers: Bickerstaff is “hopeful” that Love will return on the weekend. … Rookie Dylan Windler injured his left wrist on hard fall in the third quarter. X-rays were negative. … Okoro had 11 points and five assists in 33 minutes. … Ahead of the opener, the team picked up contract options on Sexton, Garland, Windler and Kevin Porter Jr.
Hornets: Hayward and Ball make their home debuts on Saturday against the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Cavaliers: Drummond faces his former team for the first time since he was traded to Cleveland with a visit to Detroit on Saturday. He was a two-time All-Star in eight seasons with the Pistons.
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