Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Hornets playoff countdown: T-minus 4 games

Posted By on Wed, Apr 6, 2011 at 8:05 PM

After last night's game, the Hornets ARE IN THE PLAYOFFS!. The Hornets, though, still have four games left to determine exactly what seed they'll have and who they'll play in the first round. 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: 45-33, 6th place

What happened in their last game?: Last night's game was at the same frustrating and exhilarating. The Hornets started down 20-4 to the Houston Rockets - who were also fighting for their playoff lives - but then New Orleans stormed back and eventually won 101-93.

An optimist will point to the Hornets' ability to come back against a team that completely out-played them to start the game (New Orleans didn't allow Houston to score more than 22 points after that first frame). The Hornets also managed to pick up 13 steals and Houston committed a total of 17 turnovers in a game that New Orleans basically wrestled away from their opponents.

A pessimist will look at the game and wonder how the Hornets, who were fighting for their first playoff berth in two seasons, managed to come out so flat and uninspired. How is it that they could let a visiting team start the game on a 20-4 run? Why is it that the Hornets have to be continually reminded by their coach that these are playoff-level games? Most importantly, why were there only just over 12,000 people at the Hive last night?

Too many questions, not enough answers.

What does this mean for the playoffs?: Certainly last night's game was thrilling but it doesn't bode well for the playoffs. The Hornets have now faced three teams in the bottom half of the playoff race and struggled against all three. More and more, it seems like it doesn't matter who the Hornets play in the first round because, judging by their play against weaker opposition, it doesn't seem like New Orleans can hold a candle to the top four seeds in the West.

The crowd attendance (or lack thereof) also brings into question the city's commitment to the team. Yes, everyone's seen that "I'm in" campaign and there are a slew of blue lawn signs and t-shirts with people proclaiming as much. But on a night that the Hornets were to clinch a playoff berth against a division rival you would expect the Arena to at least approach 80% capacity. That's certainly wasn't the case last night and, with an assuredly tough playoff road ahead of them, you wonder how much support the Hornets will get from a fan base unsure of the team's talent, capability or future in the city.

Basically, if last night's attendance was an indication of what to expect for the playoffs, than any fan wishing for the Hornets are staying long-term better start buying tickets for their friends - because apparently no one else will.

So who do the Hornets play next?: The Hornets play Phoenix on Friday, a team well out of the playoffs and with nothing to play for. For New Orleans, this could be a trap game. As we've said, the Hornets playoff berth was all but assured, but who they play in the first round will be a big factor in determining how long the Hornets managed to hang on in the post-season.

There is no time for celebration: the Hornets currently sport the same record as the Portland Trailblazers but get a higher seed by virtue of beating Portland in the team's season series. The teams are virtually identical when you look at the standings, which means the Hornets just have to keep winning to maintain their edge.

So what does all this mean? The Hornets have shown incredible resiliency over the past few days and weeks considering all the injuries and uncertainty that they've faced. At the same time, though, the Hornets have struggled mightily against inferior teams and have been all but blown out of the house by the top teams in the West.

None of that bodes well for the Hornets playoff dreams. Without David West, the Hornets are struggling to find depth and front court players that can step up and take the load off of Trevor Ariza, Emeka Okafor and Carl Landry. Moreover, it seems like this team can't win unless Chris Paul has at least 20 points and 10 assists.

Add all that to the fact that New Orleans also seems incapable of being emotionally ready for big games and you have a potential recipe for playoff disaster. Of course, none of that is a guarantee. There is a chance that, once the playoffs start, the Hornets will reach a new gear that they haven't yet accessed this season. They could suddenly be a team that plays a full 48 minutes of high-energy, intensively defensive basketball (much like they used to be earlier this season).

Really, though, the most anyone can do at this point is pray that the Hornets don't embarrass themselves in a seven-game series against a team like the Spurs, Lakers or Mavericks.

What's the short version of all of that? The Hornets made the playoffs, barely anybody showed up to watch it and we still have no idea who this team will face in the first round.

Then again: PLAYOFFS!!!

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