Over at numberFire.com, I wrote an article about the remaining NBA schedule and how it affects each team. In it, I provided a visual breakdown of each team’s remaining games against tough competition, which I defined as teams who stand .500 or better.
Now let’s look at the Hornets specifically. There are two weeks in the schedule where they don’t have to play an above .500 team and three different weeks with just one on the docket. The toughest remaining week is in late March when they play at Chicago, and then back-to-back on Friday and Saturday against the Wizards and Hawks. After that, only four of the final 10 are against good teams.
Also, it’s important to note that the Hornets end the season April 15th on the road against the Raptors. Right now, the Raps and Wizards are neck and neck for the second seed, but if that race is resolved prior to the last week, it’s possible that the Raptors would rest their players. If the Hornets are competing for the 8th seed against the Nets, for example, having a throw-away game at the end could be very useful.
Speaking of the Nets, who are currently sitting 9th, it seems likely that they’ll fall out of the playoff race at the end. Here’s their schedule in April – at Knicks, vs Raptors, at Hawks, vs Blazers, vs Hawks, vs Wizards, at Bucks, vs Bulls, and vs Magic. That is brutal
The Celtics, 10th right now, have a tough final week as well – a split with the Cavs, vs the Raps, and at the Bucks. It’s still unclear whether the Celtics actually want to win and make the playoffs – it’s possible that Brad Stevens does and the front office doesn't. If they fall off for tanking reasons, that really only leaves one more 8th-seed competitor: the Pistons.
The Pistons have a very easy schedule in their final two weeks, so the Hornets cannot afford to fall behind them. The Hornets currently stand two games ahead in the win column and three games ahead in the loss column, so there’s a cushion, albeit small. Both teams have to quickly figure out how to deal with their starting point guards going down with serious injuries.
Kemba Walker is probably more important of the two lost guards, as D.J. Augustin is probably a better back-up to Brandon Jennings and Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond give the Pistons two solid offensive options down low. However, the Pistons are falling off after a nice run of wins. They lost an embarrassing game to the 76ers last night, only scoring 69 total points. If the Pistons keep going on this losing streak for just another couple of games, that could be all the cushion the Hornets need.
Regardless, the Hornets will need to figure out how to manufacture offense consistently without their point guard. The defense is there and is impressive. That alone might be enough to snag a playoff spot, but getting some consistent offensive play could prove very important if the Pistons turn it around again.