Saturday night is a night of slim hopes.
For the Boston Celtics, back-to-back losses to the Cavaliers and Hawks saw their lead for the top seed in the Eastern Conference go up in smoke. On April 1st their probability of claiming the top seed and home court through all three rounds was 61 percent; now it sits at just 21 percent, kept alive by Cleveland’s own loss to the Hawks.
The hopes for the Charlotte Hornets are infinitely slimmer. FiveThirtyEight’s projection model awards them less than a one percent chance of making the playoffs. “So you’re saying there’s a chance?” Yes, there is a chance, but you have to squint really hard to see it.
Any chance slams shut if the Hornets drop any of their three remaining games. That makes the showdown with Boston Saturday night critical, as any game has been for the last few weeks. Back in 11th place with just three games to go, Charlotte needs the entire center of the East to fall back to earth while winning out. A Miami loss Friday kept that sliver of hope alive, but so many small things could happen and that hope disappears from sight.
Unlikely, but with Kemba Walker anything is possible. The 2011 UConn Huskies were one of the more unlikely champions in recent NCAA basketball history, but Walker lead that team to eleven consecutive wins and a national title. Can he rekindle that magic again?
Isaiah Thomas will look to kindle his own magic on Saturday, keeping alive his hopes of making it onto the MVP ballot. Thomas has increased his scoring average by eight points this season, putting on perhaps the most impressive season ever for someone his size. And he may not even be listed fifth on the MVP ballot.
The top seed is not the end of the road for Boston; they play well on the road and have proven they can compete with anyone in the East, including the Cavaliers. But that road gets smoother if they can knock off Charlotte and increase their chances of hosting the Cavaliers in a potential Eastern Conference showdown.
For the Hornets, that road ends tonight. Either Nicolas Batum, Marvin Williams, Cody Zeller - the entire roster gets on its hands and knees and begins paving it further - or they can begin making offseason plans Sunday morning.
After a season of disappointment, Charlotte’s last shot to salvage the dreams of its fans and its team comes Saturday. If they pull it off, it’s only one paving stone out of a large pile of unlikely bricks. Such is the hand Charlotte has dealt itself.
But right now, there is hope. However faint, Charlotte and its fans can cling to it until it’s gone.