PHOENIX AZ - JANUARY 30: Chris Paul #3 of the New Orleans Hornets talks with head coach Monty Williams during the NBA game against the Phoenix Suns at US Airways Center on January 30 2011 in Phoenix Arizona. The Suns defeated the Hornets 104-102. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that by downloading and or using this photograph User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
It's that time of year. The NBA's regular season is winding down and the playoffs will soon be upon us. Teams are making that last desperate push for playoff positioning, and the Hornets are no exception. Currently sitting as the 7th seed in the West with a record of 40-31, the Hornets have 11 games left in the regular season. It's a gauntlet of possible Western Conference playoff teams.
The Remaining Schedule:
Thursday, March 24th: @ Utah Jazz.
Friday, March 25th: @ Phoenix Suns.
Sunday, March 27th: @Los Angeles Lakers
Wednesday, March 30th: vs Portland Trailblazers.
Friday, April 1st: vs Memphis Grizzlies.
Sunday, April 3rd: vs Indiana Pacers.
Wednesday, April 6th: vs Houston Rockets.
Friday, April 8th: vs Phoenix Suns.
Sunday, April 10th: @ Memphis Grizzlies.
Monday, April 11th: vs Utah Jazz.
Wednesday, April 13th: vs Dallas Mavericks.
It's anything but an easy road, but there are some positives. There are more home games than road games, no extended road trips other than the 3-game trip that starts on Thursday, and just one back to back. After this weekend is over, New Orleans will play seven out of eight games at home. There's also the fact the Hornets are at almost full health. Carl Landry has a cut, and both Trevor Ariza and Emeka Okafor have seemingly been struggling a bit to get back to 100%. Nonetheless, the Hornets are healthier than they have been in a while. With these positives in place, its vitally important the Hornets finish the season well.
For three seasons in a row now, the Hornets have basically limped to the finish line. In 2007-2008, losing four of their last six didn't ultimately matter much as the Hornets were going to grab a top seed regardless, and despite losing the series I think we can all agree that the Spurs were a more favorable second round match up than the Jazz would have been. In 2008-2009 it probably didn't matter either. That Hornets team was so gassed and riddled by injuries at the end of it all that any match up was likely to end with the Hornets on the losing side. Last season's end season collapse was mostly a result of the loss of Chris Paul, so that's easily explained away. This season? The Hornets really need to finish strong. The Memphis Grizzlies, at the eight spot, are right on the Hornets heels, and Houston, Phoenix and Utah are all above .500 teams still in the playoff picture. As you can see above, these are the same teams the Hornets will be facing in the next three weeks. That gives the Hornets at least a little control over how those teams finish the season.
While the Hornets play has been highly inconsistent since around the last week of January, there have been some encouraging signs of late. As Rohan has noted in his game recaps, the offense is finally starting to produce at a reasonable level. Its probably not coincidental that this has occured in tandem with Chris Paul's post-concussion resurgance and the arrival of Landry. I know we all miss Thornton, but I've really enjoyed watching Carl Landry play. Watching him go to work in the post is a joy. On a statistical level, his play hasn't been anything special yet. He's posted a PER of 14.7 so far as a Hornet, and his rebounding is at an all time low. On the other hand, he's shooting 55% from the field and I definitely think his prescence will pay off in the coming weeks.
Games of particular interest:
@Utah on Thursday is interesting because it will be the first time the Hornets franchise has ever faced a Utah Jazz team with someone other than Jerry Sloan as coach. The man was an institution. This will also be the Hornets first look at the Jazz without Deron Williams.
@Lakers on Sunday could be important from a psychological standpoint. There's a solid chance the Hornets will have to face the Lakers in the playoffs. The Hornets generally look outclassed when they play the Lakers, partially because of the Lakers signifigant size advantage. A win here, or atleast a solid showing, will feel good.
vs Pacers on April 3rd will be Darren Collison's first game back in New Orleans Arena.
vs Mavericks to close the season could also be a playoff preview. The Mavericks have had a great season, but they don't seem to be a bad matchup for the Hornets.
The bottom line is this. If the offense continues its upward swing, and the defense holds steady, there's no reason the Hornets can't finish the season off right. I just hope we don't get matched up with the Lakers in the first round.