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Monday, April 4, 2011

Hornets playoff countdown: T-minus 5 games

Posted By on Mon, Apr 4, 2011 at 12:35 PM

After last night's game, the Hornets have just five left before the end of the season and a possible playoff berth in a crowded Western Conference. There are four teams that are within four games of each other - the Hornets among them - in the bottom half of the standings, but only three of 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?: After a lackluster loss to the Grizzlies on Friday, the Hornets stormed out against the Pacers yesterday at the Arena and handily beat the Pacers 108-96.

This game was the exact opposite of Friday's game, with Chris Paul and Carl Landry scoring 18 points apiece, Trevor Ariza chipping in with 19 and Emeka Okafor posting a monster double-double (14 points, 17 rebounds).

What does this mean for the playoffs?: The Hornets are now just one win away form clinching a playoff spot for the first time since missing out last season. The Hornets face the Rockets on Wednesday at the Arena in what is another must-win game for New Orleans.

Not only do the Hornets need to clinch a playoff spot, the need to keep pace with the Trailblazers, who are hanging onto the sixth seed by just one game over the Bees. New Orleans, as we've said many times before, pretty much has to earn that sixth spot to avoid facing the Spurs or Lakers in the first round of the playoffs. Both those teams are playing like title contenders now and provide serious match-up issues for New Orleans, and it would be a shame to see this team work so hard to make the post-season only to be eliminated quickly.

So who do the Hornets play next?: As mentioned above, the Hornets now play the Houston Rockets on Wednesday with a chance to clinch their playoff berth. The Rockets are currently the last team in the West not currently in the playoffs that still has a chance to make the post-season. Unlucky for them: they're three games back of the eighth seed with five games left to play.

What's bad for the Rockets is good for the Hornets. Not only is Houston fighting for their playoff live, their game against New Orleans comes on the tail end of a back-to-back which starters when the Rockets play Sacramento on Tuesday. New Orleans, which will have more rest and a clearer path to the post-season, probably won't let a lapse occur like the one on Friday night (or else they'll probably get another earful from coach Monty Williams, who clearly had his team motivated after that disappointing loss).

So what does all this mean? The Hornets have alternatively had games where they were out-rebounded in double figures and then dominated the boards. It's been the story of the Hornets season: always pretty good but also maddeningly inconsistent.

The Hornets saw flashes of that last night. Despite leading for most of the game, when Chris Paul sat out in the fourth quarter the Hornets let the Pacers nearly slip back into it. Thankfully, Paul, Landry, Okafor and Ariza all came through when it mattered.

The Hornets' depth, though, continues to be an issue. Last night, New Orleans' bench was outscored 49-30 and only Jarrett Jack scored in double figures as a substitute. As depressing as it is to harp on time and again, David West's injury continues to be a glaring issue for this team as they head into the post season. There's only so much Chris Paul and the rest of the starters will be able to do in a seven-game series without consistent bench play.

Certainly, Dell Demps and Monty Williams have constructed a much more well-rounded and exciting team that we've seen in years past in New Orleans. Much of the talent on this squad, though, remains unproven. After all, this will be Okafor's first playoff season and many on the Hornets bench are either very young or have never been to the playoffs either.

What's the short version of all of that? The Hornets' playoff destiny seems assured in that they will definitely playing post-season games. Against who and for how long are still a mystery.

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