In a shortened 72-game season this year, each game matters more than in a traditional 82-game season. Incredibly, at 10-11 the Charlotte Hornets have already played nearly 30 percent of their regular season schedule. And with three straight impressive wins against the Pacers, Bucks, and Heat, the Hornets may have just saved their season.
Charlotte was reeling before this current winning streak. The Hornets had gone 1-6 before these wins and had slipped to 7-11. Had Charlotte lost these last three games instead of winning them, they would’ve fallen to 7-14 with a tough hill to climb to get back into playoff contention.
The ultimate regular season goal for the Hornets is to snag at least the sixth seed which would give them a secured spot in the playoffs. At 10-11 the Hornets were sitting at No. 8 in the Eastern Conference standings after Monday’s games with the same record as the No. 7 Cavaliers while trailing the No. 6 Hawks (10-10) by just one game in the loss column. Charlotte has also played a harder strength of schedule with the 16th most difficult schedule when compared to Atlanta (22nd) and Cleveland (25th), so they can still make up ground. Thanks to the Hornets three-game winning streak, grabbing the No. 6 seed is still a realistic possibility.
The reason the sixth seed is so important this year is because the top six teams will secure automatic playoff spots while the No. 7 through No. 10 seeds will participate in a play-in tournament to determine who advances to the postseason. Here are the details from the NBA for this year’s play-in tourney:
“At the conclusion of the regular season, the team with the seventh-highest winning percentage in each conference will host the team with the eighth-highest winning percentage in its conference in a Play-In Game (the “Seven-Eight Game”). The winner of the Seven-Eight Game in each conference will be the seventh seed in the playoffs for its conference.
The team with the ninth-highest winning percentage in each conference will host the team with the tenth-highest winning percentage in its conference in a Play-In Game (the “Nine-Ten Game”). The loser of the Seven-Eight Game will host the winner of the Nine-Ten Game in a Play-In Game, and the winner of that game will be the eighth seed in the playoffs for its conference.”
In other words, the No. 7 team plays the No. 8 team and the winner makes the playoffs. The No. 9 team plays the No. 10 team and the loser is eliminated. The two remaining teams - the loser of the No. 7 vs. No. 8 game and the winner of the No. 9 vs. No. 10 game - then play each other and the winner makes the playoffs.
While this play-in format will be exciting and full of drama, my hope is the Hornets can avoid that mess by just claiming the No. 6 seed and punching their playoff ticket early. This would also mean Charlotte would face the No. 3 seed in the first round, and I’d generally prefer that matchup than going up against the No. 1 or No. 2 team in the East.
The Hornets may have just saved their season with this mini winning streak. Let’s hope the victories continue against two tough opponents in the 76ers and Jazz. Every game matters more this year, and every win puts the Hornets that much closer to the No. 6 seed.