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Reserve centers step up to stabilize Charlotte Hornets in the middle
Bugs 4-5 with fill-ins Biyombo, Hernangomez
Published Saturday, January 19, 2019 8:45 pm
by Ashley Mahoney | The Charlotte Post

Hornets center Bismack Biyombo, right, has started eight games since Cody Zeller broke his hand on New Year's Eve. Charlotte is 4-4  in those games.

The Charlotte Hornets are surviving with reserves starting at center.

Bismack Biyombo has started all but one game since Cody Zeller fractured his right hand against Orlando on New Year’s Eve. Charlotte is 4-5 without Zeller, which includes Willy Hernangomez starting at center on Jan. 2 against Dallas. Biyombo and Hernangomez each had 13 rebounds in Charlotte’s 135-115 win against Phoenix marked the first time two Hornets did so since Nic Batum and Dwight Howard against the Suns on March 10, 2018. Biyombo had his second double-double of the season, with a season-high 13 boards and 11 points.

“Biz was really big for us defensively on the board,” coach James Borrego said. “He really anchored our defense. His physicality down there—and that is why he has been in this league so long. He is a presence at the rim. He is a presence on the board. When he rolls to the bucket, he commands some attention. He was fantastic tonight.”

Said Biyombo: “The mindset is different. A lot of guys are accepting a challenge. That’s the fun part of the game. We all understand at this point, before the All-Star [break] we’ve got to get ahead of the game. A lot of teams are trying to fight to be in the playoff. By the time we get to the All-Star [break] we want to make sure we are among those teams that people are looking at to be in the playoff.”

Biyombo’s biggest area of improvement is not fouling. He has seven games with three fouls or more, including fouling out against San Antonio.

“He is just trying to stay out of foul trouble, play vertical, not give up easy and-ones at the rim,” Borrego said. “He did a good job tonight. Contesting without fouling is big for us.”

Hernangomez’s nine points and 13 rebounds come off a career-high 16 boards against the Kings on Jan. 17. He is the first player off the bench with 12-plus boards in consecutive games since Nazr Mohammed did so in 2008.

“Willy followed up a very good game the other night with another solid game,” Borrego said. “He is playing well, especially on the offensive end right now. He is finishing at the rim, setting good screens, offensive rebounds, and he is growing defensively.”

Hernangomez sees this as the time to establish himself in the rotation.

“We have to take advantage of those minutes,” he said. “Obviously Cody is a very important piece for us on and off the court. For me and Biz, it is a very important moment, try to use those minutes. Try to play with effort, and try to stay in the rotation as much as we can.”

Charlotte, which swept their two-game stint at home after a six-game road trip, is on a three-game win streak, tied for their best run of the season. Their trio of away games starts Sunday at Indiana, followed by stops in Memphis and Milwaukee.


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