It was only a matter of time before the injury bug caught up to Gordon Hayward. The Charlotte Hornets forward sprained his foot in a game against the Indiana Pacers and will miss approximately four weeks.
The Charlotte Hornets are in the thick of a three-way fight with the Atlanta Hawks and Miami Heat to win the Southeast Division. Only a half-game separates the three teams. Now that Charlotte lost two starters in the last couple of weeks, their future looks grim.
Starting point guard LaMelo Ball fractured his wrist two weeks ago during a West Coast road trip. Ball held the inside track to win the Rookie of the Year before the injury, but now it looks like Anthony Edwards from the Minnesota Timberwolves has emerged as the betting favorite in the ROY race.
The Hornets actually played well without Ball, thanks to veteran Terry Rozier and backup point guard Devonte Graham. However, losing Hayward to an injury could prove costly for the Hornets during a tough April.
Hayward Found His Groove Before Injury
Hayward signed a four-year deal worth $120 million in the offseason. When he’s in the lineup, he’s a valuable player. Just ask the Boston Celtics, who struggled this season without him.
However, Hayward is injury prone. He missed all but one game in the 2017-18 season with the Celtics after he suffered a fractured leg. He struggled off the bench in the 2018-19 season, but finally looked like his old self last season. Hayward started 52 games with the Celtics last season and averaged 17.5 ppg, but he missed a few weeks in the NBA Bubble during the playoffs with an ankle injury.
This season, Hayward was one of Hornets’ leading scorers along with Rozier. In 44 games with Charlotte, Hayward averaged 19.6 points and 5.9 rebounds per game, which equaled his scoring output during his peak seasons with the Utah Jazz in the middle 2010s. He also shot a career-high 41.5% from 3-point range with the Hornets before his injury.
Without Hayward in the lineup, the Hornets are 1-5 this season.
Miles Bridges (10 ppg, 5.8 rebounds) will start in Hayward’s place. Last season, Bridges started 64 games with Charlotte, but took on the role of Sixth Man once Hayward arrived.
Buzz City Playoff Hunt
The Eastern Conference is led by three power teams, with the Philadelphia 76ers, Brooklyn Nets, and Milwaukee Bucks each vying for the #1 seed. Then there’s a cluster of five teams that are around .500; all five keep jockeying for the other playoff seeds between #4 and #8.
Those five spots are constantly changing. Last week, the Charlotte Hornets (25-24) and New York Knicks (25-25) were battling for the #4 spot. This week, it’s the Atlanta Hawks (26-24) and Miami Heat (26-24) elbowing for position in the coveted #4 seed.
Then there’s Hayward’s old team, the Boston Celtics (25-25), who sit in the #8 spot and hold a two-game lead over the bubble teams — the Indiana Pacers (22-26) and Chicago Bulls (20-28).
On Deck: OKC, Milwaukee
After playing five games in eight days, the Charlotte Hornets have a favorable schedule with only two games this week. They’re still on the road but return home to Buzz City on Sunday.
On Wednesday, the Hornets visit the Oklahoma City Thunder (20-29). On Friday, the Hornets head up to Milwaukee to take on Giannis “Greek Freak” Antetokounmpo and the Bucks (32-17).
Next week, the Hornets host home games against the Atlanta Hawks (26-24), the banged-up LA Lakers (31-19), and the slumping Cleveland Cavs (17-32).