With four players just placed in COVID-19 protocols, including starting guards LaMelo Ball and Terry Rozier, the Charlotte Hornets will have a mighty challenge while trying to salvage a win in the final leg of their four-game road trip Sunday against the Atlanta Hawks.
Both teams are coming off disappointing losses in their previous outings, with the Hornets' defeat coming when they had far more personnel available.
In addition to Ball and Rozier being placed into protocols, starting center Mason Plumlee and reserve forward Jalen McDaniels were designated as well. The team did not specify whether the players had tested positive.
The Hornets last played Wednesday, dropping a 127-125 decision to the Milwaukee Bucks on a night when Ball had a career-high 36 points. Rozier had 10 points and McDaniels had five off the bench, while Plumlee was out with a right calf strain. He was on track to return Sunday.
The loss of four key players comes at an inopportune time since the Hornets were playing up to head coach James Borrego's standards, even amid a three-game losing streak.
"Great effort on the road against a really good team," Borrego said after the loss in Milwaukee. "We came in with the right mentality from the start, played for 48 minutes the right way. I don't have one minute where I don't think we were playing the right way. If we play this style, this way for 48 minutes, good things are going to happen."
The 20-year-old Ball has started all 24 games and is averaging 20.0 points, 8.3 assists and 7.7 rebounds. Rozier has averaged 17.7 points, 3.6 assists and 3.5 rebounds. Plumlee is contributing 6.8 points and 7.3 rebounds, while McDaniels has averaged 5.5 points and 3.3 rebounds off the bench.
In their most recent game, the Hawks had a 96-91 lead over the Philadelphia 76ers with 3:38 remaining Friday night and did not score the remainder of the game, falling 98-96. Atlanta had just nine points in the fourth quarter in its second straight home loss.
"First off, it's turnovers, and second off, it's not being able to put the ball in the basket, which I don't say often about this team," Atlanta forward John Collins said. "I didn't feel like all our shot attempts were the best we could get sometimes. That adds up."
Atlanta had been dealing with its own COVID-19 concerns.
Head coach Nate McMillan was back on the bench Friday after opting to sit out a victory over the Indiana Pacers on Wednesday when his son, assistant coach Jamelle McMillan, tested positive. Nate McMillan tested negative but wanted to secure several negative tests before returning.
The Hawks used a late 8-1 scoring run and prevailed 115-105 over the Hornets at Atlanta on Nov. 20. Sunday's rematch had been lining up to be another showcase for two of the league's top young guards in Charlotte's Ball and Atlanta's Trae Young.
Ball had 15 points, 11 assists and nine rebounds in the first meeting with Atlanta. Last season, he became the youngest player to record a triple-double when he turned the trick against the Hawks.
Young is averaging 26.2 points, 9.1 assists and 3.8 rebounds. His streak of five consecutive games with 30-plus points ended when he scored 25 against the Sixers. Young had 19 points, nine assists and four rebounds in the first meeting with Charlotte.
The Hawks are still without forward Bogdan Bogdanovic (ankle sprain) but could get Cam Reddish (wrist/non-COVID illness) back on Sunday.
--Field Level Media