It seems like it was yesterday.
The Charlotte Hornets (20-20) were 8-3 and appeared to be building on last season’s success in spite of losing Al Jefferson and Jeremy Lin in free agency.
The team was streaking — they’d retained their defensive fortitude and inexplicably added another offensive punch to their one-two combination.
Since then, however, the Hornets have gone 12-17. They’re flailing in the water, trying to right a ship that’s lost its way from steering into the lottery in June.
Tonight, the Hornets take on the Boston Celtics (25-15). The Celtics are currently the third best team in the Eastern Conference — a spot the Hornets were in just a few short weeks ago — and look to build on their standing. They’ve won eight of their last 10 games.
The Hornets have played the Celtics twice this season and lost both games. If the Celtics win tonight, they clinch the season series and will have the tie-breaker over the Hornets should the two teams have the same record in April.
That said, the Hornets lost by just six points back in October and eight points in December, suggesting that while the Celtics are very good, the Hornets can keep up with them.
But it won’t be easy.
The Celtics are still led by Isaiah Thomas and Al Horford, though Avery Bradley has blossomed into a very, very good player. Fortunately for the Hornets, Bradley’s coming off an Achilles injury should he suit up for the Celtics tonight. That could limit his impact.
But for the love of all things good in this world, stay on him anyway. Bradley dropped 31 points and made eight 3-pointers against the Hornets the last time these two teams played.
And as we well know, the Hornets’ defense has struggled of late. They’re giving up points everywhere — behind the arc, inside the paint, on fastbreaks, in half-court sets — and the Celtics are a fiery offensive team, particularly when Thomas is playing well.
Thomas is in many ways similar to Kemba Walker. They’re both undersized scoring point guards with wicked handles and deadly 3-point shots. Both are so crucial to their respective teams’ successes that when they play poorly, their teams tend to lose.
Needless to say, if the Hornets can limit Thomas’ effectiveness, they have a real shot at winning this game. And unfortunately for Kemba, that’s mostly dependent on him.
The Hornets desperately need a good win against a good team, as morale appears to be low. It’s a bit of a Catch-22 — the Hornets need to win to regain their confidence, but they also need confidence to start winning again.
Tonight’s game won’t be easy. But it’s within reach if they come to play.
A big if, I know.
Tip-off is at 7:30 p.m.