Friday, April 1, 2011

Hornets playoff countdown: T-minus 6 games

Posted By on Fri, Apr 1, 2011 at 8:54 PM

The Hornets couldnt have picked a worse time to play bad basketball

After tonight's game, the Hornets have just seven 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: 43-33, 7th place

What happened in their last game?: The Hornets had a chance to clinch their season series with the Memphis Grizzlies and get some breathing room for the sixth seed but...well let's just say things didn't go according to plan.

Like nothing. The Hornets trailed by as much as 16, were out-rebounded 40-26, shot a miserable 4-of-13 from three-point range. For a team coming off a monumental victory against Portland on Wednesday, this is a pretty big let down. Luckily it's not the end of the world and the Hornets live to play another day. But they certainly didn't do themselves any favors tonight.

What does this mean for the playoffs?: The Hornets, Grizzlies and Trailblazers are all within a half-game of each other in the standings. The Hornets were in the enviable position of getting to host both those teams within a three-day period and blew it.

Instead of having a full-game lead and the tie-breaker on both those teams, they're caught in that 6-7-8 muddle no one wants to be a part of. It also puts the Denver Nuggets practically out of reach in the fifth seed with a 5.5-game cushion with just six games left.

All this means that, at best, the Hornets get to play the Mavericks (6-4 in their last 10 games) in the first round. At worst? A toss-up between the Lakers and the Spurs. Not that it matters who they play considering their showing tonight.

So who do the Hornets play next?: The Hornets next face the Pacers — another team the Hornets dropped a game to due to a poor showing. Indiana is currently 35-42, which is pretty good in the Eastern Conference (or at least good enough to hold on to the 8th seed by three games).

It seems like, at home, the Hornets should dominate. But that wasn't the case when the Hornets traveled to Indianapolis and lost to the Pacers earlier in the season. New Orleans also can't count on the Pacers laying an egg because they're in a playoff race too. So, as always, the Hornets' playoff status is day-to-day. With each day a painful reminder of David Wests' absence.

So what does all this mean? We've said all along that the Hornets' would make the playoffs, but the question is who'd they'd face in the first round. After a few valiant efforts without David West, the Hornets are starting to show their weakness and lack of depth in the front court (SEE: rebounds, Zach Randolph's 28 points for Memphis).

There's also the issue of lack of quality scorers to backup Chris Paul if he has an off night. Tonight, as CP3 managed just five points, Carl Landry, Marco Belinelli and Trevor Ariza scored in double digits, but none managed to break the 20-point barrier (which, coincidentally, was how much the Hornets bench scored all game).

The Hornets, for all their effort, just aren't talented enough to compete with elite teams. And on nights when they have no effort, they can lose badly to mediocre teams. There are many shades of Byron Scott's last full season in New Orleans with this bunch. That team also limped into the playoffs and then they were subject to the worst blowout loss over 50 years.

But this is not Byron Scott's team. Monty Williams has his players' confidence and, as hard as it is to hear in the middle of a playoff push, the butt whupping the Hornets likely face in the playoffs will serve as a great learning opportunity for the young coach. That may seem like a contradiction (Williams players have his back but they're going to get killed in the playoffs anyway?) but that's the sad truth of the NBA today.

The question is whether the Hornets will find the right pieces in the future that will allow them to consistently compete, not only for a playoff spot, but also for home-court advantage.

What's the short version of all of that? The Hornets are looking more and more like a team that's just good enough to make the playoffs, but there's no telling how far they can make it past that. For now, let's just hope they don't face the Lakers or Spurs in the first round.

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