NEW ORLEANS — Friday’s practice was back to normal for the Hornets. Thursday’s, with a calm but busy look and feel, was another matter.
That practice didn’t have the usual level of hustle and bustle on the court, but it did have a good dose of intensity. Instead of the usual full-squad scrimmage followed by position drills and the like, the Hornets had an old-school three-on-three battle featuring their youngest players, with the veterans sitting out.
“The younger guys need to continue to play when they’re not getting (playing time),” coach Monty Williams said. “Obviously, we could have chose to practice, but we’ve got so many guys who are banged-up from playing a lot of minutes. And when you’re short-handed, you tend to play guys more minutes than you normally would, and I just wanted to be smart with (the veterans’) bodies.”
And maybe develop a little toughness in the youngsters. Point guard Greivis Vasquez has said often, last week in particular, that the team needs to be “meaner.” With a stretch of home games that includes visits from the Jazz, Thunder, Bucks, Lakers and Grizzlies, then a game at Miami, a reminder probably was in order.
The three-on-three action featured a half-court showdown matching forward Al-Farouq Aminu, guard Austin Rivers and swingman Xavier Henry on the black team against forward Lance Thomas, swingman Darius Miller and guard Brian Roberts on the white. It was hard-fought, and the white team seemed to prevail.
Afterward, assistant coach Dave Hanners worked with Henry on defense. Then, Williams talked for several minutes with Henry, who has struggled and seems to have lost confidence. It had the look of a player about to be sent to the NBA Development League, but Williams said that was not the case.
“It’s real personal,” he said. “We try to do more than basketball here. Sometimes we talk about life issues.”
The presence of Nate McMillan at Thursday’s practice certainly was conspicuous.
McMillan is Williams’ former boss with the Portland Trail Blazers and one of his top two mentors, the other being San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich.
The Hornets, who have played 11 of their 14 games against playoff teams from last season, have lost eight of their past nine, including a disappointing defeat Wednesday against Utah. That was the first game of a five-game homestand and came after a tough road trip ended on a good note with a victory at the Los Angeles Clippers, a contender.
So, seeing McMillan and Williams sitting and talking while the younger players scrimmaged had the look of a distress signal being answered.
“He’s just lending a hand,” Williams said. “I talk to him a lot about coaching and the game and our team, and he gives me pearls of wisdom about how to handle certain situations. Not to mention he’s one of my best friends.”
Rookie power forward Anthony Davis likely would have helped against Utah’s aggression in the lane Wednesday, but he remains day-to-day with a stress reaction in his left ankle.
“We’re still evaluating his situation. We’ll get some more testing done, just see where he is,” Williams said. “That’s normal protocol. Just erring on the side of caution.”
The Hornets are 0-6 with Davis out with this injury. He also missed two games with concussion-like symptoms after being inadvertently elbowed in the head by Rivers against Utah on Nov. 2. The Hornets were 1-1 in those games, winning at Chicago and losing at home to Philadelphia.
There will be a Buzz Fest pregame party on Girod Street beginning at 5:30 p.m. Saturday, featuring music by DJ Diagnosis. Also, children will be able to choose a free book from the Hornets Bookmobile and play math-related games in the Hornets Mathmobile.
In recognition of World AIDS Day, players from all NBA teams and Development League squads competing Saturday will wear red-and-white shooting shirts with an AIDS awareness ribbon as well as red headbands and wristbands. Coaches will wear a red ribbon.
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