Hornets will play in first postseason game since 2016, but it’s all uphill from here

By Chase Whitney

May 12, 2021 (updated)

Photo: Chris Carlson / AP

There are but three games remaining in the 2020-2021 regular season for the Charlotte Hornets, and while their play-in tournament seed hasn’t been locked, fans have a general idea of where the team might be once all of the games are wrapped up this Sunday.

Following Tuesday night’s loss to the Denver Nuggets, the Hornets face the Los Angeles Clippers at home before heading on the road for back-to-back games. On May 15, the Hornets will play the Knicks in New York (presumably in the evening), fly to Washington, D.C. immediately following the game, get to the hotel in the early morning hours, and then wake up and play a game between noon and 3:30 p.m. EST on May 16. With the Hornets jockeying for position in the play-in tournament, these are going to be important games. Great scheduling, NBA.

Let’s be real for a second here; the Hornets are probably not going to fare well in a playoff setting given their current injury concerns. Miles Bridges is in health and safety protocols until at least the end of the regular season, Gordon Hayward had his walking boot removed but isn’t ready to return yet, and we haven’t gotten an update or timetable on Cody Martin’s sprained ankle. Much like they’ve been for nearly two months, Charlotte is down three rotation players– two of which could be starters in a play-in game.

Given the team’s penchant to fight with their backs against the wall under head coach James Borrego, the Hornets can never be counted out, but expectations should be tempered. They’re going to get the best effort from their opponents on a nightly basis in the postseason, and it’s hard to counter that when three of your 10 best players are injured. Opposing teams tend to exploit matchup advantages in the playoffs, and Borrego’s ability to counter that will naturally be limited due to injuries.

At the time of publication, the Hornets are in eighth place in the East standings, behind the Boston Celtics and a half game up on the Indiana Pacers. It’s not how you want it to happen, but since Jaylen Brown just went down for the season with a torn ligament in his wrist, the Celtics are now an easier matchup. If Robert Williams isn’t healthy, a hobbled Boston team could be a jumping-off point for a similarly hobbled Hornets squad if the matchup allows for it.

The Wizards are one of the hottest teams in the NBA over the past month and the Pacers have an All-Star in Domantas Sabonis. In that unlikely event, the Hornets would have to win two road games to sneak into the playoffs as an eight-seed and likely face the Philadelphia 76ers in round one, and we all know how that could go; the Hornets were blown out by the Sixers three times earlier in the season and haven’t beaten them since 2016. Joel Embiid presents Charlotte’s worst matchup nightmare in the entire league as a bruising center that dominates the paint while also stretching beyond the three-point line with pull-up shooting ability.

Regardless of what happens in the coming week or two, this was a fun season. The Hornets will compete in at least one play-in game; the team’s first postseason game since “Purple Shirt Guy” egged on Dwyane Wade in 2016, and LaMelo Ball will be healthy enough to play. This was a season that gave the organization something to build off of; a team that hasn’t had consecutive playoff berths since the early 2000s, now has a franchise cornerstone and some terrific supporting talent. Watching it all unfold will be compelling.

Check out the remaining 2020-21 schedule for the Charlotte Hornets.


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