Charlotte Hornets – Playoff Contenders or Pretenders?

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The Charlotte Hornets are getting hot at the right time, winning five straight in their playoff push. Will this exciting young roster be able to make noise in a deep Eastern Conference?

Charlotte Hornets – Playoff Contenders or Pretenders?

Hot at the Right Time

The Hornets currently sit in the eighth spot in the Eastern Conference standings after last night’s win against the Brooklyn Nets. At 39-36, Charlotte is eight games behind the top-seeded Boston Celtics and only 3.5 games behind the Toronto Raptors for a guaranteed place in the first round. Charlotte can thank a recent winning streak for that above .500 record. The Hornets had won five games in a row and seven of their last 10 contests prior to a tough 121-106 loss to the New York Knicks. A bounce-back performance led by Miles Bridges saw Charlotte take down the Utah Jazz on Friday night. The Hornets are getting hot at the right time. 

The most impressive part of this Hornets run has been the balanced offensive attack. Looking at the five-game winning streak, Charlotte had three different leading scorers in those five games. Terry Rozier, Lonzo Ball, and Bridges have formed a nice three-pronged attack offensively. This team seems to thrive when all members of this three-headed monster are well fed. Sticking with the win streak, in the five wins, only one included a game-high of over 30 points. Additionally, each of these three players scored at least 10 points in each of these wins. This could be a coincidence, but I believe this offensive approach is key to the Hornets winning games. 

The Right Approach

Conversely, let’s look at the Hornets’ record in recent games where the leading scorer eclipsed the 30-point mark. Of course, we have the recent win against the Nets where Ball dropped 33. Including that performance, the Hornets are 5-6 in the last 11 games in which their leading scorer had over 30 points. The common thread in these losses? An unbalanced offensive attack. These games feature an offense that feels off, often leading to big nights from Ball or Rozier while the team plays from behind. 

This team needs its offense firing on all cylinders in order to win. They don’t play great defense, so Charlotte needs to get into track meets to win games. The best approach the Hornets can take is to get all of its runners in the mix. Games tend to slow down in the playoffs, so Charlotte will hope for big nights from Mason Plumlee and PJ Washington in the paint as the post-season draws near. 

Nothing Easy Going Forward

I previously mentioned the Hornets’ poor performances in a recent stretch of games. One of the common threads was the Hornets’ offense. The other? They were playing against some good teams. These losses came at the hands of Brooklyn, Chicago, and Cleveland, among others. 

The recent experience against quality teams should play in Charlotte’s favor. That recent five-game winning streak included only one team, not in play-in consideration. The Hornets will need that confidence to carry them through this final stretch. Six of Charlotte’s last nine regular-season games come against playoff-caliber teams. One of the three remaining will be against the New York Knicks. An opportunity the Hornets should relish as they will have a chance at avenging Wednesday’s 15-point loss at home.  

Charlotte has a six-game lead on New York for the final play-in spot, so they should be comfortable with their odds to make the tournament. However, they certainly want to avoid sliding into the postseason as they did at the end of the year last year. 

Verdict

The Charlotte Hornets are one of the most exciting young teams to watch in the NBA today. If this franchise can keep this core together while finding a few key pieces to add, we could see this team in the playoffs for years to come. Unfortunately, due to the depth of the Eastern Conference and the fact that Charlotte most likely Draws the Brooklyn Nets in the first game, this year won’t be the year to kick off that run. The Charlotte Hornets are playoff pretenders. 

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