It seems like a century ago that the Charlotte Hornets were sitting in fourth place in the Eastern Conference. Although winning basketball was going to be hard to sustain with the number of key injuries mounting, it has been hard to see this team struggle in recent weeks after possessing a different kind of swagger earlier in the year.
The rough month of April has made what seemed like a guaranteed playoff spot for the Hornets feel a lot less certain. However, Charlotte has a little momentum on its side. The Hornets have stringed together two very important wins against the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Boston Celtics after dropping six of the previous seven contests. It appears that the Hornets are piecing things together at the most crucial time.
This season, the NBA has adopted a play-in tournament format similar to the one that we saw debut last year in the bubble. The league is also discussing making the play-in tournament permanent.
This could come to be a blessing for the Hornets this season, granting them an opportunity to sneak into the playoffs without being one of the top eight teams in the East. Avoid the tournament altogether would be more of a blessing. Charlotte has the 22nd toughest schedule remaining of all teams, there’s still a glimmer of hope that they can finish the season on a hot streak and make this a reality.
Remaining strength of schedule for other Eastern Conference playoff contenders:
- 4. Knicks – 6th toughest
- 5. Hawks – 20th toughest
- 6. Celtics – 27th toughest
- 7. Heat – 21st toughest
- 9. Pacers – 15th toughest
- 10. Wizards – 17th toughest
- 11. Bulls – 4th toughest
- 12. Raptors – 2nd toughest
Basketball Reference has created a Playoff Probabilities Report that can help paint a clearer picture of how the seeding might unfold. According to their projections, the Hornets currently have a 62 percent chance of making the playoffs as it stands today.
In order for the team to avoid the play-in tournament, the Hornets will need to position themselves in sixth place or better in the East at the end of the regular season. According to this model, they have a 13.1 percent chance of doing just that.
These projections are not considering the returns of LaMelo Ball, Gordon Hayward, and Malik Monk. Although the odds are not in their favor to secure an automatic bid in a seven-game series, one would imagine that they are a little higher than what the model shows.
In addition to having one of the easier remaining schedules, the Hornets will play eight of their final 12 games at Spectrum Center. The opponents they will face at home include:
- 4/27 – Milwaukee Bucks (37-23)
- 5/1 – Detroit Pistons (19-43)
- 5/2 – Miami Heat (32-30)
- 5/6 – Chicago Bulls (26-35)
- 5/7 – Orlando Magic (18-43)
- 5/9 – New Orleans Pelicans (27-34)
- 5/11 – Denver Nuggets (40-21)
- 5/13 – Los Angeles Clippers (43-20)
Charlotte will face the following four teams on the road:
- 4/28 – Boston Celtics (32-29)
- 5/4 – Detroit Pistons (again)
- 5/15 – New York Knicks (34-28)
- 5/16 – Washington Wizards (27-34)
With several winnable games remaining on the schedule, will the Hornets finish the season strong and propel themselves into the top-six? Will championship-caliber teams such as the Nuggets and Clippers derail their playoff hopes or will these teams rest their starters with the playoffs looming? Will the teams from the East fighting for seeding that Charlotte has left to face pose too much of a challenge to overcome?
Although we can make predictions on what might happen, the NBA has proved time and time again that the league can be unpredictable. With the play-in tournament set to begin on May 18, we will soon start to see how the playoff-clinching scenarios will pan out and what the Hornets’ fate will be.