Friday, March 25, 2011

Hornets playoff countdown: T-minus 10 games

Posted by on Fri, Mar 25, 2011 at 1:59 AM

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After last night's game, the Hornets have just 10 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: 41-31, 7th place

What happened in last night's game?: If you missed it, then do yourself a favor and watch the video above (via Hornets247).

Now that you've collected your jaw from the floor, we'll get to the details. Emeka Okafor's completely ridiculous shot sent last night's game into overtime and the Hornets would eventually win 121-117. The win, though, came at great expense for New Orleans as David West suffered what's being reported as a 'serious' knee injury. Considering West has been a key offensive weapon all season (he scored 29 before he got hurt) and that healthy knees are key for basketball players, this could spell trouble.

What does this mean for the playoffs?: The injury to West is big (x-rays were negative, but he's schedule to have an MRI today) and will certainly have an impact on the Hornets' front-court depth down the stretch.

The silver lining is that the Hornets didn't lose any ground in the playoff race. Not only did they push Utah to five games out of the eighth seed, they're now just a half game behind Portland for sixth place and just two games behind Denver for fifth.

So who do the Hornets play next?: After a long layoff, the Hornets now face four teams in six days, starting tonight against the Phoenix Suns. Last time these two teams met, the Hornets won relatively easily at home. The game, though, became closer than it should have and the Suns - who are three games out of the playoffs - will now have the virtue of playing at home.

The question, obviously, is if Carl Landry can adequately fill West's shoes until the full extent of the injury is known and West returns. There's also the matter of coach Monty Williams having to find extra bench minutes that Landry won't be able to eat up now that he's a starter. Williams, though, has been adjusting on the fly all season long, so don't expect the team to suddenly free fall.

So what does all this mean? As we said after last game: the Western Conference playoff picture is a mess from the fourth to eighth seed. Losing one of your top two offensive players at this point in the season is about the last thing any team could want.

After tonight, five of the Hornets last nine opponents are currently in the playoffs and with a suddenly shortened bench, we'll get a chance to see if the moves Williams and General Manager Dell Demps executed made the team better or if fans will be clamoring for the days of Marcus Thornton.

Of course, you have to give the Hornets credit for their ability to pull away in overtime after losing West and after squeaking in through a miracle fade-away jumper from their center. Aaron Gray scored six of his 10 points in extra time and Jarret Jack had 15 for the game. The hornets, if nothing else, have resolve.

In the NBA, though, that can only take you so far. After Gray and Jack, the Hornets bench scored just three points and, as a team, the Hornets were out-rebounded by the Jazz. If New Orleans' talent isn't good enough, then there's no grit in the world that's going push you past the first round.

What's the short version of all of that? Had the Hornets won and David West not been injured, this game would be a sure bet to propel the team into a grudge match with the Lakers on Sunday. Now there's no guarantee that the Hornets win tonight against Phoenix and that match-up in L.A. is looking pretty ominous. It seems that we'll have to continue to monitor this on a day-to-day basis.

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