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Preview: Hornets take on Hawks in a game with massive seeding implications

Tonight’s game determines how easily Charlotte can earn the tiebreaker over Atlanta in the East standings.

Atlanta Hawks v Charlotte Hornets Photo by Jacob Kupferman/Getty Images

What: Charlotte Hornets (34-35) vs. Atlanta Hawks (34-34)

When: 7:00 p.m. EST

Where: Spectrum Center; Charlotte, N.C.

How to watch: Bally Sports Southeast, NBA League Pass

Injury report

ATL: John Collins; out (right finger sprain/right foot strain), Danilo Gallinari; probable (right Achilles soreness).

CHA: Gordon Hayward; out (left ankle).

The Charlotte Hornets have a chance to tie the season series with the Atlanta Hawks in tonight’s meeting, the fourth and final matchup of the year. These teams jostling for seeding in the play-in tournament right now and in need of a tiebreaker at the end of the season, this game could be the difference-maker.

The Hornets are 1-2 against the Hawks this year. There are seven tiebreakers the NBA uses to determine playoff seeding; the first is winning percentage in games against each other. A win tonight splits the series, and neither the Hawks or Hornets are Southeast division leaders, so it jumps down to number three; division won-lost percentage. Charlotte would need to sweep the remaining three division games and finish 9-7 against Southeast opponents while Atlanta drops all three to finish 8-8 in order for the them to secure an advantage over the Hawks in the least-chaotic way possible. The rest of the seven tiebreakers are Hail Marys if the Hornets lose tonight.

In other news, Trae Young had 46 points and 12 assists on Monday night to lead the Hawks over the Trail Blazers for their third-straight win, just one night after dropping 47 points on Indiana. Atlanta boasts the second-best offense in the league this season, powered by Young’s volume scoring and playmaking; he’s at career-high effective field goal (59.7 percent) and three-point (38.4 percent) percentages as a top-five scorer in the NBA.

Collins has missed the last two games and will be out for the foreseeable future with a gnarly finger injury. Less interior presence for the opponent is always a welcomed sign for Charlotte, and the elite Young-Collins pick-and-roll combo has given the Hornets backcourt issues in the past.

Onyeka Okongwu has came on strong this season for Atlanta, tallying 13-9-2 and 12-7 as a reserve in the last two games and proving to be a versatile, formidable defensive center in the NBA. Ranking LaMelo Ball, Anthony Edwards and Okongwu as the top-three and having Tyrese Haliburton and Tyrese Maxey in the top-10 on my 2020 NBA Draft big board makes me feel like Nostradamus.

Thanks to our pal James Plowright, we have this wonderful visual representation of the awaited return of the Hornets’ shooters.

The Hornets have scored 119 or more points seven times since the break ended, and the improved offense has been noticeable to the naked eye during games; consistent shooting solves lots of problems, but the lack of hesitancy on the break and return to confident three-point gunning is back after a monthlong slump.

Shoutout to Terry Rozier, who’s averaging 26 points and five assists per game, shooting 51 percent from the field and 49 percent from deep (9.8 3PA) with a 2.5:1 assist-to-turnover ratio over the last five games. Ball is an All-Star. Scary Terry is all the way back. Hayward is seemingly on the way back to health. Oh, and don’t look now, but Miles Bridges is shooting 41.3 percent on 5.8 threes per game over the last eight... things just might be coming up around here!