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Why the Charlotte Hornets missed the NBA Playoffs, part one: Injuries

Feel free to use it as an excuse, because injuries were definitely a reason the Hornets struggled this season.

Sam Sharpe-USA TODAY Sports

As Steve Clifford said in his season-end press conference, there's a difference between a reason and an excuse. Well, it seems totally fair to name injuries as one of the reasons the Hornets underperformed this season, and not feel like you're making an excuse.

So if you can get on board with injuries as a reason the Hornets had a tough season, it's worth exploring just how those injuries affected the team's chances at making the playoffs.

First thing's first: This team went through 17 different starting lineups this season. The top two most-used lineups only played 18 total games together. For reference here's how some other teams faired:

Atlanta Hawks - 14 different lineups - Top used lineup played 55 games together

Brooklyn Nets - 18 different lineups - Top two lineups played 34 games together

Houston Rockets - 18 different lineups - Top two lineups played 35 games together

Memphis Grizzlies - 16 different lineups - Top two lineups played 48 games together

Washington Wizards - 14 different lineups - Top two lineups played 48 games together

Golden State Warriors - 8 different lineups - Top used lineup played 57 games together

So in summary, the Hornets were never privileged with continuity, a key ingredient for chemistry, which is exactly what last year's team had in abundance.

The team began the season with Kemba Walker, Lance Stephenson, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Marvin Williams, and Al Jefferson in the starting lineup. Coach Clifford admitted in the aforementioned press conference that he made a mistake with this playing group.

After just three games, an injury to Kidd-Gilchrist forced Henderson into action earlier than the team would have liked as he was recovering from his own preseason injury. After a short stint after returning from injury, Kidd-Gilchrist was hurt again, and this time Clifford let P.J. Hairston start as the team was desperate for offense. So through the first 10 games of the season, Charlotte had already used three different starting lineups.

With Kidd-Gilchrist still out, Clifford eventually made the right choice in starting Henderson over Hairston, and that lineup played six games in a row and lost each contest. This included the first heart-breaker to Indiana, the ridiculous collapse at home to Orlando, the one-point loss to Miami, and the let-down to Portland.

Eventually Marvin Williams got hurt, which paved the way for Cody Zeller to start (the fourth unique starting lineup of the season). However, with Kidd-Gilchrist still out, the team would lose its next three games; finally ending the streak on Walker's buzzer beater against the New York Knicks.

Eventually Kidd-Gilchrist would return, paired with Zeller, Stephenson, Walker, and Jefferson. That lineup played two games, both losses. Gerald Henderson again won the starting spot over Stephenson and the team went on a four game winning streak, although against some lesser competition. Just 26 games through the season, this was the Hornets' sixth unique lineup, and arguably the one with which they should have started the season.

But after just seven games together, the "preferred starting" lineup would again need to be changed as Al Jefferson suffered an injury. Bismack Biyombo became the starter and the team played well in Jefferson's absence, winning 10 of the next 13 contests. That stretch included three wins with Brian Roberts starting and one with Marvin Williams starting over Cody Zeller. After 44 games, the team had seen eight different starting lineups, and none had played more than nine games together.

The second half of the season, was a different animal, but the first half proved just how little continuity this team was given. The first part of the season, some of that was on the coach, as he admittedly didn't start the season with the best lineup possible. However, injuries still made it very difficult for the team to ever have an identity.

All data from Basketball-Reference.