When: 8:00 p.m. EDT
Where: Spectrum Center; Charlotte, NC
How to watch: ESPN, Fox Sports Southeast, NBA League Pass
This is it. This is for all the marbles. 81 games have been played, but now this is the only one that matters. And how fitting that it comes against the man who coached this team for five years.
The Hornets need to win tonight to give themselves a chance at making the postseason. That’s still a wild thing to say after some of the play we’ve seen this season, but here we are. They know they can beat the Magic; they’ve done it before. They can also lose to the Magic; they’ve done that too.
None of the games in this series have been close. The Hornets won the first two meetings by 32 and 25 points. The Magic took the third game of the series with a 38 point margin of victory. None of it makes sense. Both teams come into this game hot. The Magic are winners of ten of their last twelve games, the Hornets winners of eight of eleven.
The main difference between these two teams right now is the state of their playoff positioning. The Magic are already guaranteed a spot in the postseason. The only thing that can change tonight is if they end up the six seed or the seven seed. They may elect to play it safe with some of their key guys if they decide that seeding isn’t all that important to them.
They’ll already be without Jonathan Isaac, who entered the NBA’s concussion protocol after getting hit in the jaw during Sunday’s win over the Celtics. He may be joined on the sidelines by All Star Nikola Vucevic, who was placed on the injury report today with a stomach virus. A Magic team down two starters would be a welcome sight for a Hornets team desperate for win.
The Magic have been very good on both sides of the ball during their most recent strong run of play. They’re taking and making a healthy amount of 3-pointers, grabbing a hefty 30% of their offensive rebounding chances, and assisting on a Warriors-like 67% of their made baskets. Those are all things the Hornets struggle to deal with, so there’s definitely some concern there. The aforementioned ailments could help alleviate some of those concerns though.
Just like last night, there is another game that bears equal importance to this one. The Pistons hit the road to take on the New York Knicks in a game that’ll help decide the Hornets playoff fate. The Hornets need the Knicks to beat the Pistons. The Knicks are the worst team in the league, but there’s some benefit there. They’ve already clinched the league’s worst record, meaning they have no more incentive to lose. They’re also winners of two straight (albeit against the Wizards and Bulls), so they’re riding the high of their third winning streak of the season. The Pistons pulled off a huge comeback against the Grizzlies last night, but they’re still playing bad basketball. It’s not impossible that they lose to the Knicks. It’s not likely, but it’s not impossible.