Sixers vs Hornets: Slowing Down Kemba Walker Critical to Continue Winning Ways

The Sixers (4-1 in their last 5 games) will look to continue their winning ways when they take on Kemba Walker and the Charlotte Hornets tonight at the Wells Fargo Center.

The Sixers will take on Kemba Walker and the Charlotte Hornets tonight at the Wells Fargo Center | Erik Williams-USA TODAY Sports

The Sixers will take on Kemba Walker and the Charlotte Hornets tonight at the Wells Fargo Center | Erik Williams-USA TODAY Sports

The Sixers will look to continue their winning ways tonight when they take on the visiting Charlotte Hornets at the Wells Fargo Center.

The Sixers are riding high, winners in four of their last five games, the most recent being a thrilling 98-97 victory over the New York Knicks, a game which saw the team finish on a 15-4 run, culminating in a basket by T.J. McConnell as time expired for the win.

The schedule gets significantly more difficult starting tonight, with the Charlotte Hornets (20-19) in town. The Hornets have been struggling of late, dropping five of their last six games, albeit against strong competition (Cavs, Thunder, Spurs, Rockets), and slowed down by injuries to Cody Zeller and Nicolas Batum, both of whom should be back tonight.

Still, despite the Hornets recent struggles they do a lot of things well on the basketball court, from taking care of the basketball, to getting to the free-throw line, to crashing the defensive glass. They’ve also given the Sixers fits in recent years, and will be a test for this surging (relatively speaking) Sixers team.

The Details:
What: Sixers (11-25) vs Hornets (20-19)
Where: Wells Fargo Center, Philadelphia
When: Friday, January 13th at 7 PM Eastern
Watch: Comcast SportsNet

Projected Starting Lineups:
Sixers: T.J. McConnell, Nik Stauskas, Robert Covington, Ersan Ilyasova, Joel Embiid
Hornets: Kemba Walker, Nicolas Batum, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Marvin Williams, Cody Zeller

(Note: Official starting lineups are released approximately one hour before the game).

Injury Report:
Sixers: Ben Simmons (out, fractured right foot), Jerryd Bayless (out, wrist), Joel Embiid (probable, left ankle sprain)
Hornets: Nicolas Batum (probable, knee), Jeremy Lamb (out, foot), Cody Zeller (probable, illness)

About The Opponent:
The Hornets have struggled of late, dropping 5 of their last 6 games as Nicolas Batum (15.1 points, 7.4 rebounds, 5.8 assists per game) and Cody Zeller (10.7 points, 6.3 rebounds, 1.1 blocks) have been in and out of the lineup with various injuries. Both should be available for tonight’s game.

The primary culprit of the Hornets struggles of late is their defense, which has given up an absurd 115.2 points per 100 possessions during this recent 6 game stretch. A part of that (a big part) has been the Hornets schedule, as they’ve faced the Cavs, Thunder, Spurs, and Rockets during this recent cold stretch. Still, that is in stark contrast to their defensive performance on the season, where the 104.4 points per 100 possessions they’ve allowed ranks as the 9th best in the league.

The Hornets are led by the perimeter play of Kemba Walker and Nicolas Batum, both of whom are playing exceptional basketball of late. Over his last 6 games Walker is averaging 27.7 points, 5.5 rebounds, and 6.0 assists per game, while shooting 51.8 percent from the field, 47.7 percent from three-point range (on 7.3 attempts per game), and 90.6 percent from the line. Batum is averaging 17.3 points over his last 4 games prior to missing a pair of games with a hyper-extended right knee.

The Hornets take the 12th most three-point attempts in the league, connecting on 35.5 percent of them, and get to the free-throw line the 4th most in the NBA, led by Walker (4.6 attempts per game), Batum (4.1), and big man Cody Zeller (3.5). They’re 2nd in defensive rebounding (79.4%) and are 1st in taking care of the basketball (10.9% of their possessions).

They’re not the most talented team in the league in terms of scoring off of set offense, but they make up for it by maxing out all the margins.

Key Matchup:
Much of the Hornets offense is reliant on Kemba Walker, who is averaging a career-best 23.1 points per game and shooting (you guessed it) a career-best 42.1 percent from three-point range.

Sixers point guard T.J. McConnell has received a lot of attention of late, because of his play (9.3 points, 6.2 rebounds, 9.2 assists per game as a starter), the team’s 5-1 record in game that he starts, and his game-winning basket against the Knicks. Tonight, they’ll need McConnell to be up to the task of slowing Walker down as much as possible.

Walked scored 22 points on 7-14 shooting from the field in Charlotte’s 109-93 victory over the Sixers on November 2nd, a game which was played in Charlotte.

Derek Bodner covers the 76ers for Philadelphia magazine. Follow @DerekBodnerNBA on Twitter.