The Charlotte Hornets are in a good position right now.
As of this morning, the team sits with a 29-26 record and holds the seven seed in the Eastern Conference (by virtue of holding the tiebreaker over the Chicago Bulls). They sit half a game behind Indiana and Atlanta for the five and six seeds, respectively, and 2.5 games behind Miami and Boston for the three and four seeds, respectively. Their current five-game winning streak is the second-highest in the Association, and their 7-3 record over their last 10 is the third-best in the league.
But there is one stat that Hornets fans should keep an eye on and worry about — 10-17. That is the team's current record in road games. It ranks 18th in the league and sixth-worst in the East. The only playoff team with a worse road record is the Utah Jazz (9-18), who hold the eight seed in the West by a half-game over the Houston Rockets.
Why is that stat so important? Because not only have the Hornets not played well on the road this season, they have not done well away from the Hive during coach Steve Clifford's tenure as coach. After going 18-23 on the road in Clifford's first season season at the helm (which ranked 15th in the league), the Hornets' road record dropped to 14-27 last year — tied for 22nd in the league with the Detroit Pistons.
On top of that, the majority of the team's final push for the playoffs this year will come on the road — Nine of their last 12 games this season, including five of their last seven, will be away from the friendly confines of Charlotte. The final five road games include the likes of Cleveland (current one seed in the East, 23-5 at home), Toronto (current two seed, 19-6 at home) and Boston (current four seed, 17-10 at home).
In short, road games will be very important for the Hornets.
Why is there such a difference between the team's road record and home record (19-9)? First, at Time Warner Cable Arena, the Hornets score 103.6 points per game and hold opponents to an average of 98.4 points per game. Away from home though, Charlotte scores 100.4 points per game and gives up 103.2 points per game. Charlotte scores more than three points less and give up two more points per game on the road. That five-point difference can be the difference between victory and defeat in many cases.
Additionally, the Hornets take and make around four less free throws on the road than at home. They get 6.6 blocks per game at home, but only 3.8 blocks on the road. Opponents make more 3s away from Charlotte (9.4 made 3s per game, 38.7 percent from 3) than in Charlotte (8.5, 32.3 percent from 3) and outrebound the Hornets by an average 45.2 to 42.7 when the Hornets are the road team, whereas the team outrebounds opponents by an average of 45.1 to 44.3 at Time Warner Cable Arena.
Charlotte has been playing great lately — their 6-1 record in February is tied for the second-best winning percentage with Portland and Golden State, and, for the month of February, the team ranks first in opponent points per game (96.5), fifth in threes per game (10.9) and fourth in net rating (8.8), per the team's PR Twitter account.
February has also seen the team's play improve drastically. In the past month, Charlotte has gone 3-0 on the road, scoring 106.3 points per game (nearly six points above their season road average) and holding opponents to 95.3 points per game (nearly eight points below their season road average. Additionally, the team has shot 48.4 percent from the floor and averaged 8.7 steals and five blocked shots in those three games. It is a small sample size, but still promising to see the team's play improve — particularly to this amount — over what it was earlier this season.
Charlotte's next three games — all road games against playoff contenders in the East (Cleveland, Indiana and Atlanta) will tell us a lot about how legitimate the Hornets and their recent road successes are.
Hopefully, the team proves that the 3-0 road record so far is not a fluke, because the team's road record could be the difference between a five seed and missing the playoffs altogether.