Had the Bobcats lost to the Kings last night, I was ready to throw in the towel on the season. That game was a must-win in every sense of the term, and the guys came through. Why was it a must win? You need only look at history and the schedule.
In recent history, the 8 seed in the Eastern Conference has needed to get to 40 wins to have a shot at the playoffs. This year, Philadelphia, currently slotted as the 6 seed, is at .500, with Detroit and Milwaukee lingering just behind them. The Bobcats sit at 23-35, which is 4 games behind the 8 seed. To make up those four games and pass the teams ahead of them, they'll absolutely have to reach 40 wins, but to do that they cannot lose against any tossup opponents.
Here's the path to the playoffs. LOSEABLE games are in bold. TOSSUPS are in italics. WINNABLE games are in CAPS. I think I've been generous to the Bobcats in assigning labels.
@ Golden State
@ LA Clippers
@ New York
@ San Antonio
@ Oklahoma City
@ New Jersey
That's a total of:
Since they have to go 17-7 the rest of the way, just to be in the playoff discussion, that means the easiest route involves winning all the winnable games, all the tossups, and two of loseable matchups. If you're looking for those two loseable games, I'll save you the time and tell you the home game against Atlanta next Friday, March 6, and the road game against a suddenly reeling Detroit on April 5 that will be the Cats' best chances to steal victory from near certain lotterydom.
Bear in mind, too, that those last two games of the season, at New Jersey and at Orlando, might not have any bearing on the Nets' and Magic's seasons, so they could be resting starters and generally lying down. That's another opportunity to scrounge out a couple extra wins they normally wouldn't compete for.
So, if the Bobcats lose any of the games that aren't bolded above, just dive in to lottery mania and dream of a top two pick. If Ricky Rubio actually enters the draft... if he's everything he promises to be... if Larry Brown and subsequent coaches have the sense to play him as the point alongside Augustin, with DJ guarding the smaller guy on defense... See how fun it is?