Charlotte Hornets: Keys to the Stretch Run


Mo Williams

The Charlotte Hornets ended the symbolic first half of the 2014-15 season in disarray. Three of their rotation players were injured. Another was traded away. Against three rather timid opponents, the Hornets collapsed, losing tight games to the Philadelphia 76ers, Indiana Pacers, and then getting blown out by fellow playoff hopeful the Detroit Pistons.

Things were bad, but there was hope on the horizon. The newly acquired veteran guard Mo Williams and his teammate Troy Daniels, both coming in the recent trade with the Minnesota Timberwolves, had a smooth first day at practice. Both players apparently showed up a day early, voluntarily, to learn the playbook before the initial official session. From the Charlotte Observer:

"“We couldn’t do anything mandatory until today, but he and Troy came in last night on their own,” Hornets coach Steve Clifford said after practice Wednesday.“They both jumped right in and picked things up well. What they did last night really helped us save a lot of time.”"

Both players appear to be eager to help their new team. Williams, especially, has always been regarded as a very professional player used to changing teams. This is team number seven he has played for, so it is not much of a new experience. He also has the help of his longtime friend Al Jefferson. Williams talked about how Jefferson has aided the transition:

"“It would be different going into a situation where you don’t know anybody and they don’t know you,” said Williams. “He helped me get to know everybody from the coaches to my new teammates – how they are and their personalities. And he can also do that for me” with the coaches and other players."

Of course, this is just the first day of practice, but it is clear that Williams bears no ill will over the recent trade, and even seems relatively happy to be here in Charlotte. The Hornets did very well in acquiring the well respected point guard, and the fact that he already has good chemistry with the team’s best player makes it that much better.

Fans should be excited about his debut on Saturday, as Williams fits perfectly into the offensive system the Hornets like to run. He is not a fast-breaking player, being more of a floor general and excellent shooter. He can run the Charlotte offense, and is more than willing to dump it into Big Al on the post while spacing the floor.

Remember also that it was just this past January when Williams lit up the Indiana Pacers for 52 points.

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Michael Kidd-Gilchrist

Michael Kidd-Gilchrist has been the unsung hero of this season, and possibly the Hornets’ MVP. There is no question that Kidd-Gilchrist has had a major effect on the team. Without his defense and smart play, the Hornets have been mostly bad. While the stats do not really show his impact, the record does. Without Kidd-Gilchrist in the lineup, the Hornets have gone 3-13 this season and suffered five of their eight blowout losses while he was in street clothes.

That is a remarkable stat. Charlotte has been abysmal without him. Non-competitive in most cases. Kidd-Gilchrist’s impact seems to go beyond the box score. He is simply one of those players whose true worth cannot be calculated.

Keeping this guy healthy down the stretch is the most important thing for the Hornets success now and possibly in the playoffs. As of right now, Steve Clifford believes that Kidd-Gilchrist will play in the game against the Oklahoma City Thunder on Saturday, but that will be contingent on how he feels after a full day of practice.

Beat The Eastern Conference

Of the last 30 games, Charlotte plays Eastern Conference foes 21 times. So far this year, Charlotte has gone 16-15 within the East, and a very respectable 8-7 against the current seven playoff teams. If the Hornets can keep up a similar pace, that would get them to around 33 wins, with nine games against the West. Even those games do not look too daunting, as only four of the nine will be against the elite teams in that conference.

The other five will come against the Los Angeles Lakers, Sacramento Kings, Utah Jazz, Minnesota Timberwolves, and the Kings again. Those are all winnable games. Winning four of those games would take the total to 37 wins.

A 37-45 record at the start of the playoffs would probably get the Hornets in. That would mean for a team to overtake Charlotte, they would have to go 17-13 or better. Given the talent on the teams outside the playoff bubble, that would be very unlikely, although not impossible. And this scenario assumes the Hornets lose every game that looks tough on the schedule.

We have already seen Charlotte beat the likes of the Wizards, Hawks, Suns, and Raptors. So a few more wins is not out of the question, especially with the Williams addition. Overall, the Hornets are in a good place as we come down the stretch.

Playoff basketball is coming back to Charlotte, so get ready.

Next: Larry Sanders - Should The Hornets Pursue Him?

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