What: Charlotte Hornets (33-39) at Indiana Pacers (34-38)
When: 6:30 pm EDT
Where: Bankers Life Fieldhouse; Indianapolis, IN
How to watch: TNT
The Hornets have struggled in the final few weeks of the season, to say the least. They gradually lost their grip on the 8 seed that they had held so tightly for several weeks and dropped all the way to 10 on the final day of the season. But all is not lost. The Hornets still can play their way into the playoffs with two good games on the road.
Up first is a visit to the Pacers. The Pacers are dealing with their own issues. There have been reports in recent weeks that the Pacers locker room is fractured, and first year head coach Nate Bjorkgren might be on the hot seat after a hugely disappointing season.
They’re also dealing with their own fair share of injuries, but it looks like they’ll be mostly cleared up in time for tonight’s game. Malcolm Brogdon has missed the last few weeks with a hamstring strain, but he’s listed as a game time decision and will probably try to give it a go tonight. He’s always a headache if he’s healthy, and he seems to have a knack for hitting big shots to stop opposing runs.
But the key for tonight’s game is limiting Domantas Sabonis as much as possible. He’s going to get numbers, but the Hornets need to try to make it as difficult as possible for him to make an impact on the game. He’s coming off a torrid finish to the season; in the month of May he averaged 23.0 points, 14.1 rebounds, and 10.7 assists. For their part, the Hornets have defended him pretty well this season. His rebound and scoring numbers are a bit below his season average; he’s averaged 17.3 points, 10.7 rebounds, and 6.7 assists in three meetings this season. That’s probably about where the Hornets want to see his final line for the night tonight.
The difficulty in game planning for Sabonis is how willing and how good of a passer he is. If the Hornets try to double too much, he’ll find cutters or open shooters, and the Hornets aren’t going to be able keep up with the Pacers offense if they’re getting efficient looks like that. The Hornets need to limit Sabonis’ touches, especially near the basket, and try to guard him one on one out on the perimeter.
The Hornets will bring the same lineup to the floor that they finished the season with. Gordon Hayward and Cody Martin are still out, so the wing minutes are going to be divvied up between Jalen McDaniels and the guards with a little bit of Miles Bridges when the Hornets go bigger.
Offensively, the Hornets just need to make shots. Since the start of May, they’ve converted just 43.6% of their field goal attempts and 32.5% of their 3-pointers. Both of those rank 27th in the league in that span. The offense has looked a little slow and clunky compared to the Hornets at their best, but for the most part they’ve just been missing shots they were hitting earlier in the season. They could feasibly get hot any time and recapture that midseason magic.