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Preview: Hornets take on Knicks in near must-win game

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The Hornets are desperately clinging to the eight seed, and they desperately need a win.

NBA: New York Knicks at Charlotte Hornets Sam Sharpe-USA TODAY Sports

What: Charlotte Hornets (33-37) at New York Knicks (39-31)

When: 1:00 pm EDT

Where: Madison Square Garden; New York, NY

How to watch: Bally Sports Southeast, NBA League Pass

The Hornets need a win in the worst way. They currently hold the same record as the Pacers and sit just a half game up on the Wizards. They have the tiebreaker over both teams, but that won’t matter if they keep losing games. Their magic number to clinch the eight seed and the easier of the two paths in the play-in tournament is two, meaning they need some combination of two Hornets wins or Pacers losses to clinch that spot.

We’ll talk about the Pacers later. But first, the Hornets can control their own destiny if they just win their games. Today they play the surprisingly good Knicks. The Knicks looked like overachievers in the first half of the season, and many saw their difficult second half schedule and figured they’d crash out of the playoff race. Instead, they’ve rallied in the later parts of the season and are in the running to host a first round playoff series.

Julius Randle is the engine that makes the Knicks go. He’s averaging 24.0 points, 10.2 rebounds, and 5.9 assists per game in what has been his breakout season. He struggled in the previous two meetings between these teams (13.5 points, 7.5 rebounds, 6.0 assists per in two games), but he’s liable to go off given the Hornets shaky interior defense in recent weeks. He’s supported by a resurgent Derrick Rose and an up-and-coming RJ Barrett. Rose is likely to be back after taking the night off against the Spurs on Thursday. He’s averaging 22.8 points per game over his last five. Barrett is averaging nearly 18 points per game and helped clinch a Knicks win in the last meeting between these two teams with a flurry of scoring in the third quarter.

The Hornets will continue to be without Miles Bridges (health and safety protocols), Gordon Hayward (foot), and Cody Martin (ankle) as they try to secure their playoff seeding and build some momentum heading into the play-in round. They’ll need a strong showing from PJ Washington, who’s likely to spend a lot of his time matched up with Randle. And as per usual, they’ll need some hot shooting from their back court trio of LaMelo Ball, Devonte’ Graham, and Terry Rozier.

At the same time as this game, the Pacers will be playing a Lakers team that should have LeBron James back in the fold as they try to climb out of the play-in round. A Hornets win and a Pacers loss would clinch the eight seed for the Hornets, so there’s something else to root for this afternoon.

Update: Miles Bridges has cleared the health and safety protocols and is available to play today!