February was a disaster for the Charlotte Hornets. The team finished the month 3-8, with those three wins coming against the Nets, Lakers and Kings, who have a combined record of 54-127.
Charlotte was also hit by an injury bug in February. Most notably, they were without the presence of starting center Cody Zeller, who appeared in just two games and tallied 40 total minutes of playing time for the whole month.
Zeller is one of the most important and valuable players that Charlotte has, and his absence was felt in a big way. On the season, Charlotte is 23-17 when Zeller plays, and 3-18 when he doesn’t.
Backup point guard Ramon Sessions also missed essentially the whole month, as a meniscus tear against Golden State on February 2nd sidelined has sidelined him for the last four weeks. He will most likely be out 2-4 more weeks. Newly-acquired big man Miles Plumlee played only five games with Charlotte before injuring his calf, and his return could take upwards of another week.
While things have been extremely rough for the Hornets over the past few months, there are signs of life as of late. The Hornets are 2-1 in the last three games, the loss coming in an overtime thriller against a full-strength Clipper team. While the wins came against bad teams, the Hornets have definitely looked more energetic in this short stretch than they had been in the weeks before.
Also on the bright side, the All-Star break seemed to be a spark for two Hornets both Kemba Walker — who competed in the All-Star Game and 3-point shootout, and has scored at least 30 points in three of the four games since returning from All-Star Week in New Orleans. The confidence of Frank Kaminsky also seems to be higher than it has been, as the Wisconsin alumni has averaged 20.0 points, grabbed 7 rebounds, and shot 43 percent from the field in the four games post-All-Star Break.
The Phoenix Suns will play host to the Hornets on Thursday night. The Suns have lost three in a row, and weren’t any better than Charlotte in the month of February, finishing at a 3-9 clip. Sitting at 18-42 on the season, it would be easy to get lazy going into this matchup, but at this point the Hornets must play every game like their season is on the line. That’s also not to say that this is an automatic win. Phoenix has some very good players, most notably Eric Bledsoe, who is one of the more underrated point guards in the league, and young phenom Devin Booker, who is averaging 20.9 points, and has the ability to catch fire in a hurry.
With just about three quarters of the NBA season completed, the Charlotte Hornets need to pick up the pace if they want to make the playoffs. With the return of Cody Zeller, the higher-level play of Frank Kaminsky, and Kemba playing like the All-Star he is, the Hornets should be able to make a late season push, but games like these almost feel like must-win situations.