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A look at play-in scenarios entering the final week of the season

There’s still a lot to be decided with four games left to play.

NBA: Preseason-Charlotte Hornets at Miami Heat Rhona Wise-USA TODAY Sports

There are no NBA games tonight to make room for the NCAA Tournament championship game. That gives us a nice chance to step back and take inventory of where the Charlotte Hornets stand in the NBA playoff picture and what we can expect for the final week of the season. First, here is the current play-in situation:

If the season ended today, the Hornets would hold the 9-seed over the Nets because of the head-to-head tiebreaker. They would host Brooklyn, and the loser of that contest would see their season end. The winner of that game would face the loser of Hawks vs Cavs, and the winner of that game would enter the NBA Playoffs as the 8-seed.

The Hornets, Nets, and Hawks all have four games to play while the Cavs have three games to play, so there is still room for plenty to change. Here are the current tiebreaker situations for the Hornets:

Two-way ties:

  • The Hornets hold the tiebreaker over the Nets due to head-to-head record
  • The Hawks hold the tiebreaker over the Hornets due to division record (teams split season series)
  • The Hornets would have to win out and the Cavs lose out for them to tie, but if that were to happen, the Hornets would have the tiebreaker because they would end up with the better conference record

Three-way ties:

The most likely three-way tie would be between the Hornets, Hawks, and Nets. The first tiebreaker is head-to-head record. The Hornets are 4-3 against the other two. The Nets are also 3-3, while the Hawks are 3-4. That would give the Hornets the 8-seed and a likely visit to Cleveland to take on the Cavaliers.

If it gets more convoluted than that, we’ll cross that bridge at that time.

Here are the remaining schedules for each of the four contestants for the final two spots:

Hornets
@Miami Heat
Orlando Magic
@Chicago Bulls
Washington Wizards

Hawks
@Toronto Raptors
Washington Wizards
@Miami Heat
@Houston Rockets

Nets
Houston Rockets
@New York Knicks
Cleveland Cavaliers
Indiana Pacers

Cavaliers
@Orlando Magic
@Brooklyn Nets
Milwaukee Bucks

A couple of notes on those schedules:

  • If the Hornets can steal a win in Miami, they have a very real chance to win out. The Bulls have been faltering late in the season, and Magic and Wizards don’t care to win games. The Wizards especially have room to gain in the draft order should they lose out.
  • The Nets have a relative cake walk from now through the end of the season
  • The Cavaliers can easily lose out should they slip up in Orlando

So there you have it. The Hornets can make a lot of headway if they win their games. The situation isn’t perfect, but it’s not an entirely disadvantageous for Charlotte. It all starts on Tuesday in Miami, where an upset win can set the Hornets up very nicely for a last second climb up the standings.