May 16, 2021
Photo: Nell Redmond / AP
With Sunday afternoon’s season-ending loss to the Washington Wizards, the Charlotte Hornets finish the season in 10th place in the Eastern Conference standings and will match up against the Indiana Pacers on the road in the play-in tournament on Tuesday night. The Hornets closed out the season on a five-game skid that resulted in a fall from the eighth seed to 10th, resulting in a tougher challenge to fight their way into the playoffs.
For anyone who’s unfamiliar, here’s a quick primer on how the NBA’s new play-in tournament works: the No. 7 and No. 8 seeds will play a game in which the winner locks themselves into the No. 7 seed in the playoffs. The No. 9 and No. 10 seeds will also play a game, with the loser being eliminated from the tournament and the winner going on to play the loser of the No. 7 / No. 8 game for the rights to the No. 8 seed in the playoffs, which is why the results of Sunday’s game against the Wizards was so important. The Hornets now have to win two games just to be the No. 8 seed in the playoffs as opposed to winning one game and being No. 7.
“Ultimately, you have to make shots and make plays to win in this league. I know it feels extremely painful right now, but there’s still more basketball to play and we are in postseason basketball.” – Coach Borrego
— Charlotte Hornets (@hornets) May 16, 2021
The Hornets and Pacers play-in game will tip off just after 6:30 p.m. EST on Tuesday at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on TNT. Charlotte went 2-1 against Indiana in the regular season, splitting a two-game series with them in late January before beating them handedly at home in April. If they win Tuesday, they’ll face the loser of the Celtics/Wizards game to determine which team gets the No. 8 seed, and if they win that game, they’ll face off against the Philadelphia 76ers in a seven-game first-round series.
To put it simply, the Pacers are in a bit of disarray. Last week, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski tweeted that head coach Nate Bjorkgren’s “future with the franchise is uncertain,” following a year of locker room turbulence. Bleacher Report’s Jake Fischer also reported something similar, and on top of that, their play on the court has been wildly inconsistent. They also could be without Myles Turner and/or Malcolm Brogdon, who have been sidelined with injuries.
The Eastern Conference #StateFarmPlayIn Tournament is locked 🔒
— NBA on TNT (@NBAonTNT) May 16, 2021
Regardless of off-court issues and injury concerns, Indiana is still a competitive squad. Caris LeVert is putting up 24.8 points on 40 percent shooting from deep to go with 7.4 assists per game in the month of May. The front office also seems to have uncovered a gem in recent free-agent pickup Oshae Brissett, who is hitting 40 percent of his triples on the season, providing tons of energy, and showing he’s capable of defending multiple positions.
The health of the Pacers players is the biggest question mark heading into this matchup and will be a determining factor, but the Hornets have reason for hope. Although the season ended with five-straight losses, they were all closely contested apart from a late collapse against the Los Angeles Clippers. Luckily, Miles Bridges is back from health and safety protocols and hasn’t missed a beat, Devonte’ Graham is scoring well despite coming up short late in games, and LaMelo Ball may not be 100 percent healthy, but he’s shown up when it matters. There’s still plenty to look forward to in the Hornets’ first postseason game since 2016.
The Hornets take on the Indiana Pacers on Tuesday, May 18 at 6:30 p.m. EST on TNT.