Just as we thought the Charlotte Hornets were poised to make it to the postseason, they’ve lost seven of their last nine games and dropped out of the top eight in the East. With 18 games left and a record of 29-35, it’s do or die for this Hornets team. They haven’t made the playoffs in three seasons but their goal this year has been to change that. Can Michael Jordan’s team of veteran players and the star power of Kemba Walker turn things around? Can they play well enough to salvage the season? Let’s discuss.
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First, the bad news. They’re in 10th place, neck and neck with the Miami Heat and Orlando Magic, but just a game behind for that final playoff spot. Their 91-84 loss to the Heat at home was a big setback in their race to the playoffs. On Wednesday, the Hornets matched a season-high for turnovers (21) in a sloppy game against the Heat, a performance that doesn’t bode well for their playoff chances.
The Hornets are also playing horribly at home in general, having just lost five in a row at the Spectrum Center in Charlotte. Until Wednesday, the Hornets had been giving up more than 30 points to their opponents in the first quarter alone. The only thing they’ve got going for them is that if the Hornets can manage to tie it up with either team – the Heat or the Magic – they’re ahead 2-1 in each of those series this season.
It’s too bad they have games against the Milwaukee Bucks and the Houston Rockets coming up and matchups with the Raptors and Warriors on a trip out west to complete the season. Intimidating much?
Meanwhile, their star player, Kemba Walker, is set to be a free agent this offseason. While he says his loyalties lie with Charlotte and he loves it there, his future has got to be on everyone’s mind. Would failing to make the playoffs yet again turn him off? Would the dynamic point guard prefer to move to a team where he can venture further into the postseason and have a shot at a championship? It would certainly be tough for the Hornets to replace this All Star’s leadership, experience, ball handling, and 25 points per game.
Similarly, shooting guard Jeremy Lamb – who averages 15.2 points per game for the Hornets – also enters free agency this summer and his future is even more unclear. All we know is that following the All Star break, rookie Miles Bridges replaced Lamb in the starting lineup. Does that mean that management isn’t confident that Lamb will re-sign? Only time will tell.
And Malik Monk, the 21-year-old shooting guard who had really been shining earlier this season, hasn’t started in three games, purportedly due to Head Coach James Borrego’s decision to shorten his rotation. He says Monk just happened to be the odd man out. But Michael Kidd-Gilchrist isn’t playing nearly as much either. It’s his seventh season with the Hornets and this is the first time (in his life, he claims) that a coach has chosen not to play him. And he just so happens to have the option to opt out of his contract with the Hornets this summer too…
Instead, we’ve got Frank Kaminsky playing hot off the bench, adding 20 points to the Hornets’ side of the scoreboard during that game against the Heat, 15 against the Nets, and 18 against the Trail Blazers. That’s three in a row scoring into the double digits for Kaminsky. So there’s some good news, right?
Supposedly, we shouldn’t read too much into any of these lineup changes because Borrego’s only end goal is to win games and move forward… as it should be. Borrego is known for being unpredictable, so it’s possible Monk, Lamb, or Kidd-Gilchrist could be back on the court at any time.
According to Hornet’s small forward Nic Batum, “We’ve been there. We understand… It’s not like we’re five games behind. We were ninth, then we moved up to eighth yesterday [with the Magic’s loss to the 76ers]. In this race, you never know what will happen.”
Well, here’s to hoping! Catch the Hornets tonight in their game against the Washington Wizards to see whether they can continue their playoff push!