With All-Star Weekend wrapped up and Charlotte waving goodbye to the leagues best stars to make way for our beloved Nic Batum and Bismack Biyombo, we have just about reached the business end of the regular season.
The Hornets currently sit in the 7th seed at 27-30 (God bless the Eastern Conference) and are looking to seal their place in the playoffs in the remaining 25 games of the season.
Sounds pretty simple… I mean, outside of the top 4 or 5 teams the conference is truly awful, even the teams that came into the season trying to tank are accidentally winning games and projecting themselves into the playoff picture, I’m looking at you Steve Clifford.
The problem is we’ve used up all our easy stretches already and now have to play 16 of our 25 remaining games against teams with an equal or better record than us, including 10 games against teams slotted in the 5th seed or higher of their respective conference. And for anyone who hasn’t seen what our record looks like against teams better than us, it pretty much serves as perfect evidence as to why the teams that are better than us are, well, better than us.
However there is no need to panic! I believe there are a few ways the Hornets can finish strong and book their place to what hopefully isn’t a first round embarrassment.
Firstly, we kick off the home stretch of the season with four straight home games – 2 of which –Washington and Brooklyn– are eminently winnable, I wouldn’t be mad if we split the Houston and Golden State games. This would bring us 3-1 out the gate and back to .500 where we’ve been very cozy and snug for a large part of the season. And it’s only one short trip up to Brooklyn before we’re back in the Queen City for a back to back to back stretch of home games, make that 7 out of our first 8 games post all-star break being played at home.
For a team that is 19-9 this season playing on its own court, I don’t think it’s too big an ask for the team to go 5-3 over these 8 games. This may be wishful thinking here to set myself up for almost certain disappointment… but hey! Welcome to following the Hornets.
Speaking of wishful thinking. How great would it be if Malik Monk could carry on playing the way he has the last few weeks for the rest of the season?
It feels like James Borrego has finally figured out how to get the best out of him, ditching the idea of him as a play-making point guard and instead focusing on what he can actually do. Which is? Shoot the ball and use his athleticism when given space to attack the basket. Playing him off a true point guard –whether that be Kemba Walker or Tony Parker– and letting him fly around the perimeter for an open shot or cut into the paint has shown us what I believe to be the best and the most fun version of Monk we’ve seen since he landed in Charlotte.
If we are able to keep Monk in this form, then we have found the layer of our offense that we’ve been looking to unlock since day one of the new coaching regime — a properly spaced floor with plenty of options in our rotation. Hell. Even Nic Batum, for all his faults, has been shooting the ball efficiently this year, his FG% and 3P% both up by roughly 5% compared to the rest of his tenure in Charlotte. Now how fun does that sound? I’m sure absolutely nothing could go wrong here, why not end the season today and give us that sweet 7 seed?
If you are still left unconvinced at this point, as I’m sure many of you are, including myself if you couldn’t tell from that fairly sarcastic comment in the last paragraph. Maybe the greatest hope we can take going into the last part of the season is that we more or less have it in our own hands, even if things do go a little wrong along the way.
As things stand, the four teams behind Charlotte with realistic playoff hopes are Detroit, Miami, Orlando and Washington. The Hornets still have seven games to play against these teams, including a final game of the season at home against Orlando that could very well have MAJOR playoff implications.
While we would be hopeful that we’d have a playoff place guaranteed by this point, we could take pride in making that game as good an atmosphere as we’ve ever seen in Spectrum Center. A win or go home elimination game against your division rivals would be some way to get a good feel around the team if we were to get a W, even if it does ultimately end up in first round failure.
So, with all that being said, it’s time to put our J. Cole Hornets Throwback Jackets on and get behind our team. With a tough stretch like this they’re gonna need everything we’ve got.
And remember, if things don’t go the way we hope, I’m sure we’ll all be watching the draft lottery with baited breath to see if we can reclaim our place back in our rightful spot at the 11th overall pick.