CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Things are going to get tougher before they get better for the struggling Bobcats.
As if the Bobcats need any more hurdles to overcome while trying to dig themselves out of the NBA cellar — they’re already mired in a franchise-record 12-game losing streak and playing without three starters — they begin a brutal three-game home stand on Friday night.
Charlotte will face the Chicago Bulls, Los Angeles Clippers and Philadelphia 76ers in a span of four nights.
All three teams lead their respective divisions and have a combined record of 54-20.
If there’s some good news for the Bobcats (3-22) it’s that starters D.J. Augustin, Gerald Henderson and Corey Maggette all say there’s a chance they’ll return before the NBA All-Star break later this month with Augustin and Maggette possibly returning for portions of this home stand.
Maggette appears closest to returning.
Expected to be the team’s leading scorer this season, Maggette has missed 19 games with a strained left hamstring but began practicing on a limited basis earlier this week in Boston.
Maggette said he suffered no setbacks and hopes to return to practice Thursday and be cleared to play the following night against the Bulls.
“We want to make sure everything is up to par, especially with a hamstring,” Maggette said. “You can’t have a middle ground with that. So they have taken the right precaution. It’s been tough to be patient.”
Maggette said sitting out and watching has been torture for him and his return can’t come quick enough.
“We’re desperate for a win,” Maggette said.
Augustin feels the same way.
He’s missed the last eight games with inflammation in his right toe, forcing rookie Kemba Walker to take over at point guard. The Bobcats have lost all eight games without Augustin, their leading scorer.
While in Portland, Ore., last week, Augustin said he visited with Nike officials and hopes they can make a special shoe designed for his foot that will alleviate the pain he’s been feeling since the beginning of the season.
He said he’s on target to return next week, possibly as soon as Monday against the 76ers if all goes well.
Augustin said he hasn’t done any running or cutting, but has been jogging and shooting.
“I’m ready to get in and get some work before the break,” Augustin said.
Augustin’s absence has forced coach Paul Silas to play Walker more than he anticipated.
And while Silas has said publically he’s thrilled with Walker’s play since stepping into the starting lineup, there’s no denying the added playing time is taking its toll on the No. 9 overall draft pick.
Maggette said he spoke with Walker last week and could tell the rookie is beginning to get fatigued.
“He feels like one college season is ending and another is just beginning,” Maggette said. “It’s so many more games.”
Walker downplayed the fatigue factor, saying it’s something he’s getting used to.
“I think everyone around the league is probably pretty tired at this point,” Walker said. “I know a few wins would surely make me feel better though.”
Henderson just strained his right hamstring last week — the same injury that sidelined Maggette — but thinks he’ll be on the shorter end of the projected two to four week recovery period.
He said he’s already made good progress in his recovery and wouldn’t rule out returning before the All-Star Weekend.
Maggette believes once all three players return the Bobcats will be competitive.
“If you think about it, right there is almost 50 points out of your lineup with Gerald, D.J. and myself (sitting out),” Maggette said. “And still, a lot of games we were in. We just lost the momentum in the third quarter. Hopefully we can get some guys back and win some games.”
Added Walker: “You have to realize, we’re a young team and most of our veteran guys are out at this point. It’s tough. We just have to come together and just rack up some wins. And I think that is going to happen at some point.”