The fight for Eastern Conference’s eight seed is a crazy one. Things change daily – just this past Tuesday, the Hornets jumped two spots in the standings simply by not playing (and losing) a game. There’s a good chance the bottom seeds will be determined by tiebreakers, as all the teams are within a game or two of each other.
In case you’re curious, tiebreakers work in a step-by-step fashion. Overall standings are sorted by winning percentage obviously, but then it goes division winner, head-to-head, conference win percentage, win percentage against East playoff teams, win percentage against West playoff teams, and finally net points in all games. What happens if it’s still tied after that? Well, that's what we call the Holy Grail of playoff scenarios.
Here’s how the Hornets stand in regards to tiebreakers with the other teams fighting for the eighth seed.
Miami Heat – Charlotte is 2-1 against the Heat currently with one game to play on April 7th in Miami. If the Hornets win, they’ll own the tiebreaker. If the Heat win, it’ll come down to conference win percentage, which is close right now too – the Hornets are 17-16 and the Heat are 18-17.
- Brooklyn Nets – Charlotte is 0-1 against the Nets with two games to play, one at home and one on the road. With three games total, the Hornets will need to win the remaining two games to own the tiebreaker.
- Detroit Pistons – Charlotte is 0-1 against the Pistons with three games to play, one at home and two on the road. If they split, it’ll go to conference win percentage. Detroit is 15-21 right now.
- Indiana Pacers – Charlotte is 1-2 against the Pacers with one game to play at Indiana. The Pacers are currently 16-16 in Eastern games.
- Boston Celtics – Charlotte is 2-1 against the Celtics with one game to play in Charlotte. Boston is currently 14-19 in conference play.
The Hornets boast the league’s eighth-best defense, allowing opponents to score at a rate of 103.1 points per 100 possessions. They were better than that before Bismack Biyombo’s injury, but have still been excellent, especially when Michael Kidd-Gilchrist is on the floor. MKG is posting an individual defensive rating of 94.5 and Defense Real Plus-Minus (DRPM) of 3.28 this year, which is fourth-best among all small forwards, only behind Tony Allen, Draymond Green, and Kawhi Leonard.
The Hornets this season have had a plus-4.2 net rating (offensive rating minus defensive rating) when MKG has been on the floor and -7.1 when he’s been off the court. Only Biyombo has had a similar split, although it’s not as drastic when he’s off the court. Charlotte has had a plus-1.7 net rating with Al Jefferson off the court this season, which is an amazing statistic considering the Hornets are still in the playoff hunt.
The Hornets have played well the last couple of games since Mo Williams has joined the team, including a much-need victory over the Chicago Bulls this past Wednesday night. However, despite the improved play, the stats tell an interesting story in regards to Williams. The Hornets have a -4.3 net rating in the Hornets first three games with Williams. However, that doesn’t really tell the whole picture, as they’ve had a -11.6 net rating with him off the floor.
That really speaks to the Hornets injuries and lack of both depth and shooting on the wings. Williams hasn’t been outstanding, save for a couple moments like the third quarter in the Bulls game, but he’s been an upgrade for a team that is really hurting for his specific skill set. His ability to penetrate the lane and hit open jumpers will certainly help the rest of the season, and really help the rest of the Hornets who will have more space to cut and create postups.
And the improved play and chemistry comes at a great time, as the Hornets schedule is pretty easy for a week or so. They’ll begin March with three straight games against teams with losing schedules – at Orlando on Sunday, home for the Lakers on Tuesday, and at Brooklyn on Wednesday. Things get a little more tough on Friday when they take on the Raptors at home, but Toronto hasn’t exactly looked like world beaters over last month, so perhaps Charlotte can steal one.
The Eastern Conference standings are as close as ever and probably will be that way for the remainder of the season. Charlotte will need to take advantage of soft weeks like the one upcoming if they want to gain some valuable ground against the other teams on their heels.