Charlotte Hornets

NBA | Charlotte Hornets vs. Cleveland Cavaliers | Rick Bonnell | recap | Dec 10 | 2016

This looked ominous. It certainly would have been consequential.

Charlotte Hornets point guard Kemba Walker was on the floor, obviously in massive pain, after a collision with Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James.

Walker is 6-1 and 184 pounds, which would make him an NFL kicker. James is 6-8 and 250 pounds, which would make him an NFL defensive end. So it was obvious who was going to get the worst of these two making contact.

Walker was “showing,” an NBA strategy for defending the pick-and-roll. Walker’s left knee collided with James’ right knee. When he was finally helped off the court, he sat at the end of the bench, clutching his knee.

Diagnosis: A contusion. Coach Steve Clifford started formulating what he’d do if Walker missed games. He had veteran alternatives in Ramon Sessions and Brian Roberts, but as Clifford acknowledged, you can’t go much more than half an NBA game without a starter-quality point guard before the effects start showing.

Once again Kemba Walker demonstrated what a tough guy he is, pound-for-pound. Someone who sure belongs among Eastern Conference All-Stars.

Then the night got a lot better. About a half-hour later, Walker emerged from a shower, dressed and pronounced himself fine. With a shy grin, he said he’s not badly hurt and expects to play in Monday’s game against the Pacers in Indianapolis.

Certainly the injury could swell up and stiffen after Walker slept on it Saturday night. But it looks like the Hornets sidestepped something serious. Once again Walker demonstrated what a tough guy he is, pound-for-pound. Someone who sure belongs among Eastern Conference All-Stars.

Walker was typically terrific Saturday. He finished with a team-high 24 points and was the driving force in a third-quarter comeback that trimmed what was once a 19-point deficit down to three. He thoroughly outplayed his Cleveland counterpart, Kyrie Irving (11 points on 4-of-13 shooting and five assists).

Irving is the established All-Star. Walker is trying to earn his first All-Star birth, and will probably need the Eastern Conference coaches’ vote on reserves to make it.

Nic Batum is the Hornets’ most versatile player. Marvin Williams is their most cerebral player. But Kemba Walker is this team’s heart.

I believe he will. The skill, the athleticism and the toughness Walker epitomizes this season will be appreciated by the East’s 14 coaches (Clifford can’t vote for his own player).

But back to the point of the night: What if Walker’s knee had been more seriously injured?

Nic Batum is this team’s most versatile player. Marvin Williams is this team’s most cerebral player, particularly on defense.

But Walker is this team’s heart. His consistency is incredible. Until Friday’s blowout of the Orlando Magic, in which all five starters sat out the fourth quarter, Walker had never failed to score at least 17 point per game this season. Even when he was off his game, he’d find a way to score, whether it was layups or free throws or 3-pointers.

Remember that Walker led the NBA last season in late-and-close points, the definition of clutch. When your peers in that category are guys like James, Kevin Durant and Carmelo Anthony, you’ve accomplished something.

I raise all that because I can’t imagine how costly it would have been had Walker missed a week or two with this knee contusion. The injuries on this team have been so widespread that only three players have appeared in all 24 games.

Walker is one of those. If he at all can play, he will. It’s not just what he does.

It’s who he is.

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