Saturday, March 19, 2011

Hornets playoff countdown: T-minus-11 games

Posted By on Sat, Mar 19, 2011 at 9:13 PM

Because the Hornets last loss was so ugly, we thought a pretty picture of some pretty ladies would brighten the mood.

After last night's game, the Hornets have just 11 games left before the end of the season and a possible playoff berth in a crowded Western Conference. There are six teams that are within five games of each other - the Hornets among them - in the bottom half of the standings, but only four them will make it to the post-season. With that in mind, we're going to keep a running tab of all the essential information and links you need to know about where the Hornets stand in the Western Conference Playoff Picture

Hornets' Record, Standing: 40-31, 7th place

What happened in last night's game?: It wasn't pretty, though it did start that way. In the end, the Hornets blew a 15-point first-half lead and lost to the Boston Celtics 89-85. Chris Paul didn't hit a basket all night and the Hornets bench scored just six points.

What does this mean for the playoffs?: By virtue of the Hornets' loss and a Portland Trailblazer's win, the Bees feel from sixth to seventh in the standings. But the more important team to keep track of is Memphis, which is 1.5 games back in eighth place. They'll play Utah today (the Jazz are three games back of the Hornets in 9th place) and then face Boston, the Chicago Bulls and the San Antonio Spurs in a tough five-day stretch.

So who do the Hornets play next?: The Hornets' schedule, unfortunately, is no cake-walk, either. They get five days to mull over their loss to the Celtics and then head on a three-game road swing to face Utah, Phoenix and the Lakers. The long layoff should work to the Hornets advantage, but Utah is still dangerous even without Deron Williams and, at this point, every game needs to be a win.

So what does all this mean? If you haven't been able to tell, the Western Conference playoff picture is a mess from the fourth to eighth seed. The Hornets are 6.5 games from fourth place and home-court advantage in the first round, but just 3.5 games from missing the playoffs all together.

Again, last night's loss meant that Portland leap-frogged New Orleans in the standings. But the Blazers have a rough schedule coming up, with 9 of their last 13 games against playoff teams, including two games against San Antonio and home games against Dallas and the Lakers.

The Hornets don't have it quite as bad. They face just five playoff teams in their final 11 games. The caveat here is that New Orleans also have six games against teams within four games of them in the standings, likely making them highly competitive games that could drain the team's energy. All in all, though, every game is a must-win for the Hornets if they don't want to fight for their playoff lives in the last week of the season.

The silver lining in all of this is that the Hornets have basically been in this position for most the of the season and, while they've been close to being knocked out of the top-eight in the West, the Hornets have held on to their playoff spot. The Hornets, though, are not a good enough team to bet on a win for every night. Coach Monty Williams has his players playing hard, they just need a few bounces to go their way (and for Chris Paul to not have another game where he doesn't make a field goal).

All the while, the Denver Nuggets seem like a sure bet to take the fifth seed or better and are playing better than ever since trading Carmelo Anthony.

What's the short version of all of that? The Hornets are essentially playing to see if they'll play the Lakers (a team New Orleans has yet to beat this year) or the Mavericks (a team the New Orleans beat twice this season) in the first round of the playoffs. With some luck, they might even play Oklahoma City in the first round (the Thunder won the team's season series 3-1, and that was before they got Kendrick Perkins).

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