The Hornets Are Struggling: Can They Right the Ship?by Patrick Champion April 19, 2021 1 comment
Right now, the Hornets are sitting at 27-28 and eighth in the East. Prior to the beginning of the season, Charlotte fans would have been pleasantly surprised by this record. Many experts and casual fans alike predicted that the draft addition of LaMelo Ball would raise an otherwise weak roster to about a play-in spot. However, through 55 games, the Hornets could be so much better.
Current Situation in Charlotte
A quick glance at the injury report provides an answer. At the moment, Ball, Gordon Hayward, Malik Monk, P.J. Washington, Devonte’ Graham, and Brad Wanamaker are all injured. Of those six, perhaps the most important three (Hayward, Monk, and Ball) have been or will be out for a prolonged period of time. They alone account for a combined average of 48.6 points, 14.5 rebounds, and 12.1 assists per game. That is a lot of firepower.
The absence of that firepower is finally catching up to the Hornets, who are currently mired in a four-game losing streak. In three of their last four games, the they have scored 101 (vs. Atlanta Hawks), 93 (vs. Los Angeles Lakers), and 90 (vs. Cleveland Cavaliers). A far cry from the already poor 22nd-ranked offense averaging 110.3 points per game.
In their absence, Charlotte has had to rely on players such as Terry Rozier and Miles Bridges. Even the occasional 15- or 20-point outburst from Jalen McDaniels, who has been thrust into the starting lineup, is what gives the Hornets a slight offensive spark. And for as long as those players are injured, the schedule does not get any easier. A Boston-Milwaukee-Boston gauntlet at the end of April puts a strong emphasis on this tough stint. It will be nearly impossible for the Hornets to salvage their season and make not only the play-in but also the playoffs
Ball and Hayward will not be back until at least early May. In fact, Ball may not be back for the rest of the season. As such, the Hornets will have to learn to win without two of their best three players. In the NBA, that’s hard to do.
Another factor that cannot be overlooked is the volatile Eastern Conference, especially between the fourth seed and ninth seed. Currently, a mere 3.5 games separate the fourth-place Hawks and ninth-place Indiana Pacers. The Hornets find themselves closer to the back of that pile with the eighth seed and a distance of 2.5 games between them and their southeastern division foes. However, a play-in spot with seeds seven through 10 is not out of the question.
To accomplish this, the Hornets will need to win enough games to stay clear of the 10th-seeded Chicago Bulls, who are currently five games behind the Hornets. Fortunately for Charlotte, the Bulls have a pretty tough schedule, too, with games against the Philadelphia 76ers and Brooklyn Nets highlighting this. Perhaps more importantly, they also have two games against Charlotte. For worst-case scenario’s sake, let’s assume the Bulls win 11 of their final 16 games. That means the Hornets will need to win at least six games.
Where Will Those Hornets Wins Come From?
For starters, to hit the six-game minimum, the Hornets will need to win the remaining two games against the Bulls, giving them the tiebreaker in the season series. That leaves four remaining. A good place to get a victory is April 23 at home against Cleveland. While the most recent game was a 103-90 loss with a very depleted Hornets team, they might have adjusted to life with the current roster.
Two crucial games follow against another team currently jockeying in position for the first pick in the NBA draft: the Detroit Pistons. Facing them on May 1 and 4, the Hornets will hope to continue their success against Detroit this year. That means the team will need to win one more game to make the play-in. They have a few more good opportunities to get said win on May 7 versus the Orlando Magic and their season finale on May 16, facing the Wizards in Washington.
For Orlando, it’s an important game against their former coach in Steve Clifford. And for Washington, it is the season finale for both teams with both trying to make the play-in.
While the Hornets have been as high as the fourth seed this year, they have fallen on hard times due to injuries. While they will attempt to right the ship and guarantee a spot in the playoffs, this could be a season where a playoff spot truly is determined by the last game.
Follow Patrick Champion on Twitter @PatrickcPTST
Main Image Credit: