August is usually the most brutal part of the NBA calendar because there is nothing going on. On Wednesday, the schedule for the 2015-16 season was finalized, and now it's time to get excited about basketball again. Here are some key highlights, analysis, and predictions for how the Charlotte Hornets will fair this season.
The season opens up on the road for the Hornets, traveling to division foes Miami Heat on October 28 and Atlanta Hawks on October 30. Charlotte ends the month of November with a seven game home stand that ends on December 2 against the defending champion Golden State Warriors. The same thing goes for the month of December, with the final four games of the month being at home and the Memphis Grizzlies coming to town the day after Christmas.
January could be a brutal month for the Hornets, as they are scheduled to play 12 of their 17 games on the road, with a west coast road trip scheduled for the last four games of the month. February doesn't get much better. After playing the first four games at home, the Hornets then go on the road for six straight.
The stretch run should be kinder to the Hornets, as they start March off by playing 10 out of 12 games at home, with a stretch of seven games in a row in Charlotte. After that nice home stand, nine of the Hornets' final 12 games are on the road, all against potential playoff teams such as Brooklyn, Detroit, Milwaukee, Toronto, New York, Washington, Boston, and Cleveland. Whether Charlotte makes the playoffs or not could come down to how many of those games the Hornets win during that brutal road stretch at the end of the season.
The Eastern Conference is looking to be deeper this year and hopefully more competitive. There seems to be six teams clearly at the top (Cleveland, Chicago, Miami, Atlanta, Milwaukee, Washington) and then after that, there are eight other legitimate teams that could make the playoffs: Charlotte, Orlando, Toronto, Boston, Brooklyn, New York, Detroit, and Indiana. This will make for a tough schedule this year, especially since it seems as though every team in Charlotte's division has the chance to make the playoffs.
The opening game against Miami could be a toss up simply because both teams have roster turnover that they're dealing with. All of the Hornets' offseason moves have been well documented and Miami never had all their guys healthy all at the same time.They then follow those games up with a home and home against Atlanta and then a home game against the Bulls.
The beginning of November presents a small Western Conference road trip against Dallas, San Antonio, and Minnesota that will be difficult, but its followed with a decent home stretch that includes Brooklyn, Philadelphia, and Sacramento. This will be a great opportunity for Charlotte to grab some wins against decent teams too, as they will welcome Golden State, Cleveland, Milwaukee, and Washington during that home stretch.
December will start to get tougher with more teams that made deep playoffs runs will play that Hornets. In December, they host Golden State, Memphis, and the Clippers while also having to go on the road to Chicago, Memphis, and Houston. It gets even worse in January, as the Hornets will travel to Golden State, Phoenix, the Clippers, New Orleans, Oklahoma City, and Utah in that month.
The last three months of the season are when Charlotte will have plenty of opportunities to secure a playoff spots, playing 13 games against teams that will potentially be in the same tier as them. They play Indiana three times, Brooklyn three times, Detroit twice, Orlando twice, Toronto, New York, and Boston. The unfortunate thing is that they will be playing the majority of those 50/50 games on the road, putting them at a disadvantage to their playoff competition.
Overall, the Hornets have a tough schedule. Not only has the East gotten better and more competitive, but it seems that a fair amount of Charlotte's home games will be played against some of the Western Conference's elite.
I'm expecting the Hornets to get off to a rough start playing Miami and Atlanta on the road in addition to Dallas and San Antonio. They will be able to get games back at the end of the month when they play Philly, Sacramento, and Brooklyn all in a row at home. It gets tough again in December, with them splitting home and road games back and forth against tough opponents. That's all before the brutal back half of the schedule with the majority of the games being on the road.
40 wins seems to be the optimistic way of looking at this schedule. With how hard it is and with the insane amount of turnover the Hornets saw to their roster, getting to that mark will be hard. We've seen the past two seasons, however, that if you want to make the playoffs in the Eastern Conference, 40 wins makes you a lock for the final two spots.
I am going to set my official prediction at 34-48 for this year's Charlotte Hornets. I have always been a big proponent of continuity for NBA rosters as an overlooked advantage for some teams. While I have loved the additions that Charlotte has made, it will still take a while for this team to get used to playing each other and the Hornets' schedule is too tough on the back end for them to make up for the early growing pains. The playoffs aren't out of the realm of possibility, but it doesn't seem like the most probable outcome for this team.