The Charlotte Hornets lost a game yesterday afternoon, and unless the most unexpected of circumstances fall in their favor, the Hornets will be the 6th seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs.
Yesterday's loss was disheartening for numerous reasons. The Washington Wizards had already been eliminated, and were playing without John Wall. The Hornets shot poorly, and played without purpose on defense. A small stretch of good play at the start of the 3rd quarter gave them the lead mid-way through -- and then they gave it up and found themselves down 12 entering the 4th. For whatever reason, the Hornets once again stunk on a Sunday afternoon.
I rehash all this, because this next link is going to sound ridiculous given yesterday's result. Dieter Kurtenbach over at Fox Sports wrote on why the Charlotte Hornets could win the NBA title. Let me preface by saying that Kurtenbach wrote a fine article, but the climate of an NBA season can change so rapidly that every sound point made can be turned on it's head in an instant. Kurtenbach writes that Charlotte's identity as a "poor man's Golden State", the lack of a true contender in the Eastern Conference, and their ability to play well against the best teams in the league give them an outside shot at making the NBA finals. This is all true, but this bit exemplifies what it was all dependent on:
If Charlotte can earn home-court advantage for the first two rounds of the playoffs, it's hardly ridiculous to put them in an Eastern Conference Finals matchup against the Cavaliers.
With home-court virtually gone, the idea that Charlotte could beat Cleveland looks a little more far-fetched considering they probably won't make it that far at this point. And look, the idea of calling Charlotte a title contender is a bold take, but it could have made a bit of sense if the Hornets were playing hot and heading into the playoffs with home-court advantage. Neither is the case now, and while it shouldn't take away from what's been accomplished this season, their recent play does dampen the spirits of many who were starting to think bigger. Things could turn around -- as I've already said, fortunes and misfortunes can change quickly -- but losing to Washington was bad, and it at least gave me perspective that I've likely projected this team's ceiling too high.
So now that home-court is likely gone, what is their to play for? According to the Charlotte Observer's Scott Fowler, it should be maintaining their spot as the 6th seed. Fowler's reasoning? To avoid the Cleveland Cavaliers. Finishing as the 4th or 5th seed would mean facing the Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference semi-finals should they win their opening playoff series. I'm inclined to agree, especially if Charlotte isn't getting home-court. The Toronto Raptors wouldn't be an easy match up either, but the Charlotte pro team has had a horrible time against Lebron James historically. Meanwhile, Toronto has been beatable in the past, and until this group wins a playoff series, it's hard to gauge just how dangerous they'll be in the postseason. Flip back to Cleveland, and it's almost a given that James will be playing incredible basketball. Without Michael Kidd-Gilchrist to slow him down, Charlotte would have a near impossible time containing him.
Finishing as the 6th seed would mean facing the Atlanta Hawks, who aren't a good match up, either (it would also mean a lot of playoff games televised on NBA TV, so excuse me for a moment as I slowly roll my eyes at the lack of coverage that series would get). And yet despite the bad match up, I would rather have road games in Atlanta verses Miami or Boston, but that's just me.
Now playing for the 6th seed is completely off the table for the actual players and coaches. No doubt they're going to want to beat Boston to give them some window of opportunity to finish higher up the standings, and I ultimately want them to win their final two games. I guess a "best" case scenario at this point is win the final two games, but still end up 6th. At least they've likely have some momentum heading into the playoffs.
Finally, I'll leave you with a non-Hornets link. This comes from Michael Baumann at Liberty Ballers, who wrote the recap for the Philadelphia 76ers 109-108 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks. If you don't know already, their GM Sam Hinkie resigned recently primarily due to being unable to work with Jerry Colangelo. With Hinkie gone, Colangelo hired his son, Bryan to fill the role. Many are frustrated given that most of the situation appears toxic, and much of the work Hinkie did could end up being for nothing (how much he gets credit for depends on who you ask). That said, Baumann used the recap to voice his frustrations by replacing every verb in the article with, "took over the team via Skype, hired his son and ran away" -- a direct reference to the older Colangelo. It's a great read, and certainly reminded me of my frustrations during the rebuilding years in Charlotte.