The Charlotte Hornets finished the season with their best record since the 2015-16 season, yet for the fifth season in a row, they finished as the ninth or tenth seed in the East (this year, it was 10). This lands them a date with the Atlanta Hawks in the Play-In game, where the Hornets will have to win if they want to keep their playoff hopes alive.
In their four meetings this season, Charlotte went 2-2, splitting the season series against Atlanta. The two teams last met on March 16, where the Hornets were able to walk away with a 10-point victory, holding Trae Young to his lowest point total of the season (nine).
But the Play-In is a different beast.
Young is unlikely to have forgotten about the way he played against the Hornets in their last meeting. He was a menace in the playoffs last season, and with everything on the line, there aren’t many players more built for the moment than Young. His clutch gene is sure to shine through and will be up to the Hornets to either match it or quell it.
Unfortunately, with how talented Young is, quelling it may not be an option. Young had only 14 games this season where he scored fewer than 20 points. That being said, two of those games came against the Hornets. However, Charlotte only went 1-1 in those games, and in the other two games (where Young averaged 27.5 points and 9.5 assists), they also went 1-1.
The point is, even if they do stop Young, Charlotte has been so streaky this season that it might not matter. They are 13-0 when they hold teams to 101 points or less, but only six of those games were against teams that finished above .500. And to make matters worse, they’ve only accomplished that feat three times since the end of January.
So, while locking up on the defensive end will be crucial, the Hornets might be better off focusing on themselves. Charlotte is 9-1 this year when they score over 130 points, with their only loss being an overtime heartbreaker against the Houston Rockets. They have reached that mark four times since the end of January, and three times since the end of February.
As crazy as it sounds, simply out-scoring the Hawks might be Charlotte’s best bet to earn a win this Wednesday, especially when you consider that Atlanta finished with the fifth-worst defensive rating in the NBA this year (113.7).
Young is the primary obstacle standing in between the Hornets and LaMelo Ball’s first-ever playoff appearance. The Atlanta point guard has playoff experience on his side, but the Hawks’ poor defense gives Charlotte a real chance to pull off the upset. And while the Hornets have found success shutting down Young in the past, their best bet at earning the win is to win the battle on the offensive end.
Points. That’s the key. Charlotte needs to score. A lot.