Confident Hornets ready for rematch vs. Raptors

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Devonte’ Graham’s return after missing almost a month with a knee injury gave the Charlotte Hornets three healthy guards capable of starting.

However, third-year Hornets coach James Borrego wants to keep rookie LaMelo Ball in the starting lineup. And for now, Borrego is going with Terry Rozier among his starting five and bringing Graham in off the bench.

Rozier, who is playing some of the best basketball of his career, saved his best for late in the game on Thursday night, scoring 12 of Charlotte’s final 15 points in a 105-102 win over the Detroit Pistons.

The Hornets won for the third time in their past four games and will try to keep gaining momentum when they host the Toronto Raptors on Saturday night in the second of a three-game homestand. The Raptors swept the Hornets in a back-to-back set in Tampa on Jan. 14 and 16, winning each game by three points.

Rozier finished with 17 points and has averaged 23.5 points on 51.9 percent shooting including 44.3 percent from 3-point range over his previous 13 games.

Rozier struggled early against Detroit but made four of his last five shots.

“That is what separates the good from the greats,” Rozier said. “If you want to be great you have to have that confidence down the stretch.”

Graham played more than 18 minutes and finished with seven points and six assists as Borrego said he plans to roll with the starting five of Ball, Rozier, Gordon Hayward, PJ Washington and Cody Zeller.

“He’s very comfortable in those moments,” Borrego said regarding Graham. “It’s almost like he is more locked in the tighter the game is. That’s rare at any level, much less at this level.”

Toronto has lost five of its past six games and blew a 15-point lead in the final six minutes before losing 121-120 to the Atlanta Hawks in Tampa on Thursday on Tony Snell’s three-pointer at the buzzer.

Norman Powell finished with 33 points and Chris Boucher scored 29 points and grabbed nine rebounds off the bench to follow up a 30-point game he had March 4.

“We just needed one more play anywhere we could find one, one more bucket,” Toronto coach Nick Nurse said. “One more bucket probably puts the game away or one more stop probably puts the game away, and we just unfortunately didn’t find it because the guys played their guts out.”

Kyle Lowry moved into second place on the Raptors’ all-time scoring list with 10,292 points, surpassing Chris Bosh (10,275). Lowry, who had 17 points and 12 assists, now trails only DeMar DeRozan (13,296).

The Raptors have been depleted since before the break due to the NBA’s COVID-19 protocols and again played without Pascal Siakam, Fred VanVleet and OG Anunoby. Nurse hinted that Toronto could be without them as well as reserves Malachi Flynn and Patrick McCaw for as many as two more games.

Toronto did get Nurse back after he missed the two previous games for the same reason. But five members of his staff remained out.

“I think that’s going to be the smart thing to do and try to figure out, like always, to get us safely to the end, get us playing our best at the end and get us in at the end so we have a chance,” Nurse said.

–Field Level Media