Ailing Hornets to host L.A. Clippers

Sacramento Kings forward John Salmons, left, drives against New Orleans Hornets guard Greivis Vasquez in April 2013 game. The Pelicans signed Salmons to a contract Tuesday.
Sacramento Kings forward John Salmons, left, drives against New Orleans Hornets guard Greivis Vasquez in April 2013 game. The Pelicans signed Salmons to a contract Tuesday.

NEW ORLEANS — The New
Orleans Hornets will have to finish out the season without rookie power forward Anthony
Davis, whose left knee was injured during Wednesday night’s loss to the Sacramento Kings.

Davis had an MRI and has a sprained left medial collateral ligament and a bone bruise, the team said Thursday. Surgery will not be needed. With just three games left, he will spend the rest of the time recovering.

The Hornets (27-52), who went 1-4 on the road trip, face the Los Angeles Clippers (52-26) Friday night in the second-to-last home game of season. The Hornets play the Dallas Mavericks on Sunday at New Orleans Arena, then play at Dallas on Wednesday’s he season finale.

Davis, who averaged 13.5 points and a team-leading 8.2 rebounds, wasn’t the only Hornets to limp home from the trip. Point guard Greivis Vasquez injured an ankle Tuesday night against the Los Angeles Lakers. It is not known if he will play Friday night, although it does not seem likely.

Davis was injured when Baton Rouge native Marcus Thornton charged into him then fell on Davis’ knee. He lay holding the knee and writhing in pain. He left the game with 5:45 remaining and did not
return.

Davis, who has been playing more consistently well as the season as gone on, was a bright spot on the road trip. He started the trip with just six points and nine rebounds against Golden State, playing with foul trouble.

He bounced back, however, averaging 18.8 points and 9.8 rebounds in the four subsequent games. In the five games, he blocked nine shots. He shot 48 percent from the field, but 95.8 percent (23-of-24) on free throws.

Davis had 24 points and 12
rebounds against Utah, then
followed it with 20 points against Phoenix and 18 points and 14 rebounds against the Lakers. He had 13 points and 10 rebounds against Sacramento before being injured.

“I want to finish the season out strongly,” said Davis, who said he was looking forward to going on the road after the Hornets’ 4-3 home stand against teams in playoff positions. “I think that will be a good way to go into the offseason.”

Vasquez played against the Kings on Wednesday, but had just four points and two assists.

“I was struggling out there,” Vasquez said. “I was trying to play through it.”

The Hornets did not practice Thursday, which has been coach Monty Williams’ policy after they play games on consecutive nights.

Vasquez apparently was going to try to play Friday night. He said he would get treatment and see if it felt better. That he is in this situation with a game up against the Clippers almost seems like Groundhog Day, or at least deja vu.

Vasquez, who has had ankle ailments much of the season, sprained his ankle during practice March 24. He sat out the next game, against the Denver Nuggets, the next day. Backup point Brian Roberts, starting for just the second time this season, had his best game, getting 18 assists as the Hornets had a stunning 110-86 victory at New Orleans Arena.

Perhaps because of Roberts’ performance of that former Hornets All-NBA point guard Chris Paul was coming to town for the next game with the Clippers, Vasquez returned. His mobility severely restricted, Vasquez was ineffective, playing just 27 minutes, taking only two shots and not scoring and getting four assists. Paul was in control the whole game in leading Los Angeles to a 105-91 victory.

Vasquez may have been injured, but according to Paul, there was nothing wrong with the Hornets point guard’s mouth. Paul chided Vasquez for being a less than established player but nonetheless “talking all the noise in the world.” And, the two were seen talking at times during the game.

Vasquez, motivated by Paul’s stature in the league and respectful that he can embarrass a counterpart not playing with the highest of intensity and focus, scored 25 points in leading the Hornets to a surprising victory in the first meeting between the teams on Nov. 26 in Los Angeles.

Paul got even the next game, a victory on Dec. 19 in Los Angeles, setting up the game on March 27 at the Arena.

After that game, Vasquez said he hurt the team by playing. If he’s not available to play Friday night, and that’s likely, Roberts appears ready to step in again. He primed for the assignment with a career-high 20 points against Sacramento.

The Hornets defense appears to be in need of healing, too, after giving up 121 points in the loss to the Kings and 104 against the Lakers. The Kings shots 55.3 percent, including 50 percent (10-of-20) on 3-point attempts, and the Lakers shot 50.6 percent.

Every team other than the Phoenix Suns, the only team the Hornets beat on the trip, shot better than 45 percent. The Golden State Warriors, who are one of the best-shooting teams in the league, hit 46.2 percent in the first game of the trip on April 3, and Utah hit 50.6 percent — 42.3 on 3s — two nights later.

The Clippers, despite winning the first division championship in franchise history, come to town with the team concerned Paul will be a free agent on July 1 and with speculation coach Vinny Del Negro could be fired if the team does not advance far into the playoffs. They were swept in the second round last season after just getting past Memphis in the first round.