Celtics-Hornets Preview

The Charlotte Hornets are unexpectedly atop the Southeast Division. It's not at all surprising that Kemba Walker and Nicolas Batum are leading the way.

In search of a season-high five straight wins, the Hornets look for Walker and Batum to help them build on one of their best performances of the season Saturday night against the visiting Boston Celtics.

Charlotte (14-8) has missed the playoffs in nine of the last 11 seasons, but winning 14 of their past 19 has the Hornets in the process of turning things around with the second-best record in the Eastern Conference.

They've been particularly impressive at home, winning 10 of 13. Charlotte has allowed an average of 82.5 points and 37.7 percent shooting while taking the last two there. That's part of a four-game overall winning streak during which the Hornets are yielding 90.0 points per game.

They last won five straight March 1-8.

Walker and Batum were instrumental to getting Charlotte closer to equaling that run Friday. The guards combined for 53 points after the Hornets gave up the first 11 and trailed by as many as 14 in the opening quarter of a 123-99 win at Memphis.

Walker and Batum combined to make 19 of 30 from the field and shoot 10 for 16 from beyond the arc.

"We came out kind of flat and (the Grizzlies) came out really strong," Walker said. "As a team in the huddle, we told each other we've got to do better."

Walker leads the Hornets with 18.1 points per game while Batum is second at 16.8 - over five points higher than last season's average with Portland.

Walker is averaging 26.8 points over his last four meetings with Boston. However, his 28 points and 12 assists weren't enough in a 116-104 home loss March 30.

Batum hasn't come close to being that productive in his last five matchups with the Celtics, scoring 12.8 per game. He had no points while missing six shots in a loss with Portland on Jan. 22.

Boston (13-10) is in search of a bounce-back effort after falling 124-119 in double overtime Friday to Golden State, which improved to 24-0. The Celtics had two chances at the end of regulation to win it, but Isaiah Thomas' shot was blocked before Kelly Olynyk's jumper was way off at the buzzer.

Coach Brad Stevens was asked if there's such a thing as a "great loss."

"No," he said. "Not even a good one."

Stevens, though, should be encouraged by Olynyk's recent production. The 7-footer is averaging 21.3 points while hitting 53.3 percent from the floor - 7 of 16 3-pointers - over the last three games.

He had a season-high 28 points Friday, topping 20 for the third time in five games. Olynyk is averaging 8.4 points in five meetings with Charlotte.

Thomas had 10 points against the Hornets on March 30 after totaling 51 over the previous two. The guard was four rebounds shy of a triple-double against the Warriors, scoring 18 points with 10 assists while making 7 of 22 from the field.