30 teams in 30 days: Hornets poised for bounce-back season


30 teams in 30 days: Hornets poised for bounce-back season

One of the bigger disappointments a year ago, the Hornets are poised to improve upon last season’s 36-win club and compete for a playoff spot.

Kemba Walker had a breakthrough season in which he earned his first all-star selection, and will once again be on the short list of top-shelf point guards in the East.

But far too often the Hornets relied on Walker’s offense to carry the day which is why they acquired eight-time all-star Dwight Howard whose presence around the basket should do wonders for a Charlotte team that ranked tied for 26th in the NBA in points in the paint (39.9) last season.

And Howard, a three-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year (2009-2011), should also play a role in helping the Hornets’ defensively where last season their defensive ranking was 14th (106.1) in the league.

Charlotte also needs more production from Nicolas Batum. 

A 6-foot-8 wing, Batum can do so many things at both ends of the floor to the point where for Charlotte to take that next step and become a top-4 or top-5 team in the East, he has the skills to be far more dominant than his stats suggest.

Last season he averaged 15.9 points per game, but also showed his versatility in also averaging 6.2 rebounds, 5.9 assists and 1.1 steals.

But the real key to Charlotte’s growth this season will lie in its depth which hasn’t been strong or deep enough for them to make the kind of strides required to be successful.

The addition of former rookie of the year Michael Carter-Williams and rookie Malik Monk should provide the Hornets with another ball-handler (Carter-Williams) and shot-maker (Monk) that Charlotte absolutely had to have coming out of this year’s draft. 

Selected by Charlotte with the 11th overall pick in last June’s NBA draft, the 6-foot-3 Monk was widely considered one of the best shooters in the draft as he connected on 39.7 percent of his 3’s in his lone season at the University of Kentucky.

How quickly he adjusts to being an effective NBA shooter will be a huge plus for a Charlotte team that struggled mightily most of the season where they shot 44.2 percent from the field which ranked 26th in the NBA.

Key free agent/draft/trade additions: Dwight Howard (Houston); Michael Carter-Williams (Chicago);

Key losses: Ramon Sessions (Charlotte)

Rookies of note: Malik Monk.

Expectations: 42-40 (Second in the Southeast Division, 6th in the East)

Jerebko hoping for a winning return to Boston


Jerebko hoping for a winning return to Boston

When Jonas Jerebko was with the Celtics, his play and performance often drew very little fanfare or notice from anyone other than his teammates and coaches. 
Now with the Utah Jazz and back in Boston for the first time, he is once again a low-key -- but important -- contributor. 

And it's a role that Jerebko doesn’t mind playing, in part because of his time in Boston. 

“It’s all about winning over there,” Jerebko told the Deseret News recently. “I had three great seasons there, going to the playoffs, Eastern Conference finals and a lot of winning, so I just learned that this league is about winning and that’s it.”
While that’s true, Jerebko’s role with the Jazz appears to be slightly more prominent than it was in Boston. 
In his two-plus seasons in Boston, Jerebko made six starts. We’re not even at Christmas yet in his first season in Utah and the 6-foot-10 forward has already had 10 starts for the Jazz.  He’s also averaging 6.3 points, which is more than he ever averaged in a full season for the Celtics. And he’s shooting a career-high 44.4 percent from 3-point range. 
The numbers are better in Utah, but Jerebko is more concerned with helping the Jazz (13-14) rack up a few more wins.
“It’s all about that win in that column, so that’s really what I learned in spending my time [in Boston],” Jerebko said. “It was a good time.”
Here are five under-the-radar story lines leading up to tonight’s game between the Boston Celtics and Utah Jazz. 

Fans are in for a treat tonight when two of the NBA’s top rookies will be on the floor. Boston’s Jayson Tatum, the NBA’s top 3-pointer shooter this season, has established himself as one of the top rookies in most categories. Meanwhile, Utah’s Donovan Mitchell has made a name for himself as one of the league’s best first-year players, evident by him averaging 17.8 points per game, which is tops among all rookies. 

Keep an eye on Boston’s 3-point defense. The Celtics come into tonight’s game limiting opponents to 33.8 percent on 3’s, which is the second-lowest average in the NBA. They face a Utah team that has been among the league’s best this season. The Jazz are shooting 38.3 percent from 3-point range, which ranks fifth in the league.

Limiting their mistakes will once again be a key for the Celts because few teams capitalize on mistakes as well as Utah. The Jazz force 16.5 turnovers per game, which ranks second in the NBA. But more impactful is the points those turnovers produce. The Jazz come into tonight’s game having averaged 19.1 points off turnovers, which ranks fifth in the NBA. 

This was supposed to be his first time facing his old team, but the dislocated left ankle injury he suffered on Oct. 17 has put him on the shelf for what’s expected to be the rest of this season. Still, that won’t prevent his former teammates from playing with a little extra something. As for the Celtics, they have had a tremendous amount of success against Utah at home which can only enhance their chances of winning tonight. 

While the Celtics are playing a ton of games before most teams in the NBA, the Jazz have their own scheduling nightmare to deal with. Specifically, the caliber of opponents that they have ahead of them is pretty daunting. They play the Celtics tonight followed by a road game against Cleveland on Saturday. From there, they face Houston and Oklahoma City on the road, then come home to take on the San Antonio Spurs (who now have Kawhi Leonard back in the mix). Including the Celtics game tonight, seven of Utah’s remaining games in the calendar year 2017 are against teams with an above-.500 record.



WATCH: Boston Celtics vs. Utah Jazz


WATCH: Boston Celtics vs. Utah Jazz

Tune into NBC Sports Boston to watch the Celtics host the Jazz at TD Garden. You can also click here to watch the Celtics livestream presented by Nissan on the NBC Sports App. Coverage begins at 7 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live Presented by ACE Ticket.

- Game preview: Slumping Jazz look to break long losing streak in Boston

- Channel Finder: Make sure you know where to watch

[SHOP: Gear up, Celtics fans!]