Tuesday on Hive Talk Live (which is a great show, and you should listen to it /end plug), I was asked to predict the amount of wins the Charlotte Hornets would earn in the remaining 29 games. I predicted a 19-10 finish, which I felt was incredibly generous (and this was before the Hornets acquired Courtney Lee), and would have them finish with 46 wins. Even now, this still feels a little too optimistic, but it isn't as absurd as I originally thought.
Flash back two seasons ago, and the Hornets, err Bobcats, were 23-30 entering the All-Star break. They finished the season 20-9, stormed into the playoffs, and then quickly tumbled out after a four game sweep by the Miami Heat. That team, though fun and lovable, was not as talented as this season's team. It strung together 20 wins thanks largely to the best month of Al Jefferson's career, but overall it lacked the dynamic scoring options the Hornets have now.
With the talent on this roster compared to the one two seasons ago, 19-10 is a realistic record. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist's absence is big, but the Hornets jumped out to a 15-10 record without him earlier this season (and that was with P.J. Hairston starting). Lee's addition has strengthened the roster, and gives them a legitimate starting lineup while balancing out the second unit. Bench Force 1 remains intact, and the starting lineup contains five scoring threats, even if Lee isn't an overtly aggressive offensive player.
What could determine just how well the Hornets do the rest of the season is how they perform on the road. Currently 8-17 on the road this season, they are the only team in the top eight of the Eastern Conference that hasn't won at least 11 road games. In fact, only three teams (Philadelphia, Brooklyn, and Milwaukee) have worse away records. 16 of their remaining 29 games are on the road, so a sub .500 record wouldn't be ideal. They've only managed three wins on the road against Eastern Conference teams this season, and all 16 remaining road games are against the East. So yeah, this has got to improve.
The biggest test will come immediately, with six road games in seven total starting Friday, including five in a row. The good news is that three of these are against some of the worst teams in the conference, but the Hornets already suffered bad losses to Milwaukee and New York earlier this season, so none of these can be penciled in. If there is a silver lining, the Hornets are 4-4 on the road since the seven game losing streak earlier this season, which is undoubtedly the season's lowest point.
What the Hornets do have going for them is their record at home. At 19-9, it's currently the second best home record in the Eastern Conference. They get seven home games in a row starting in early March, and four of them come against teams with losing records. What's more, none of their opponents have more than 29 wins on the season. Unlike their seven game home stand earlier this season that featured games against Cleveland and Golden State, none of the upcoming opponents are in the top half of the playoff standings. Going 7-0 is realistic.
The seven game home stand is the easiest portion of the remaining schedule. After that, it's four road games in a row at the end of March against bottom Eastern Conference teams, and then April offers a tough end to the season with road games against Cleveland, Toronto, and Boston. Hopefully by April the Hornets are sitting well in the standings.
There are obviously a number of other factors still in play. What happens during the trade deadline could determine whether the Hornets schedule gets easier or harder, along with just how well Charlotte will be equipped for it (in other words, if they decide to make another trade). That said, despite the road challenges looming, the Hornets don't have travel farther west than Milwaukee, which should ease their traveling schedule. Riding off the momentum gained prior to the break, and staying healthy, could make for a strong end to the season.