Hornets have clinched a play-in berth, but need Rozier to step up and Hayward back to make a run

By Chase Whitney

March 31, 2022

Photo: Frank Franklin II / AP

The Charlotte Hornets have officially earned a second straight postseason berth, guaranteeing the team no worse than the 10th seed in the play-in tournament following the win over New York.

The first and last of Charlotte’s five straight wins came over New Orleans, and the Hornets have followed it up with three more wins in their last five games. The team has managed to maintain a positive net rating during this recent stretch and balanced out losses against the Knicks and Nuggets with quality wins over Brooklyn and Utah. 

Week in review

The five-game winning streak ended with a home loss to the Knicks, who were led by RJ Barrett’s 30 points and 20 of 45 (44.4 percent) team three-point shooting. After giving up 40 points in the first quarter, the Hornets were never all that close until the horn sounded. LaMelo Ball put up 32 points, nine rebounds and five assists with six three-pointers while Miles Bridges had 15 points, nine assists and five rebounds. 

Charlotte’s homestand ended on a high note as Ball, Bridges and Terry Rozier shined in crunch time to beat the Jazz. Bridges led the trio with 26 points, 11 rebounds and four assists; Rozier posted 25 points and four rebounds, and Ball had 21 points, four rebounds and five assists. With the game tied at 99 and 1:32 remaining on the clock, the Hornets began an 8-2 run that featured a go-ahead triple and game-icing free throws from Rozier.

The Hornets played spoiler in Kyrie Irving’s first game at Barclays Center this season, holding him to 16 points on 6 of 22 shooting in a win that put them ahead of Nets in the conference standings at the time. Ball finished with 33 points, nine assists and seven rebounds, and Miles Bridges registered 24 points and eight rebounds. Cody Martin only scored eight points, but his one-footed three to put the Hornets up five with just over a minute to go was arguably the biggest bucket of the game.

Another triple-double of 26 points, 19 rebounds and 11 assists from Nikola Jokic, and a three-minute scoring drought in the final five minutes of the fourth quarter amounted to a loss in the second game of a back-to-back against Denver. Aaron Gordon scored 17 points in the first quarter and finished with 21 and seven rebounds. Bridges’ 27 points and Ball’s 22 points led the Hornets. 

Bridges exploded for 14 consecutive points in the fourth quarter en route to 31 points on 11-15 shooting in an electric win over the Knicks in Madison Square Garden. Ball posted a career-high 15 assists to go with 20 points, five rebounds and three steals. Kelly Oubre Jr. eclipsed 20 points for the first time since February 25 with 21 points on 4-7 three-point shooting in the win. 

What’s ahead for the Hornets?

It seems like this season has flown by. To round out the year, the Hornets will be on the road for games in Philadelphia and Miami before returning home to face Orlando. Charlotte visits Chicago and hosts Washington for their final two games.

The Hornets will get one last test as they travel to face two of the East’s best teams in their final five games. Both the 76ers and the Heat are battling for the top seed in the playoffs with Boston and Milwaukee, and the Heat are coming off of a massive win over the Celtics. Bam Adebayo and Joel Embiid are two of the best bigs in the NBA, so James Borrego will get a chance to see how his frontcourt stacks up against the elites one last time before the postseason. 

Possibly a “trap game,” the Hornets welcome the Magic to The Hive on the first night of a back-to-back before flying out to Chicago. At the time of publishing, Orlando is in the midst of a four-game skid and currently holds the best odds for the number one pick in the 2022 NBA Draft. By all accounts, the Hornets should win this game easily, but that’s what could make it a “trap.” 

What to watch for

As the season winds down and the team gears up for the play-in tournament, keep an eye on the rotation and how individual players’ minutes fluctuate. For example, Oubre averages 26.7 minutes per game on the season, but only averaged 19.5 in the month of March. Montrezl Harrell’s minutes have dipped slightly since he was first acquired, and conversely Isaiah Thomas has earned more minutes as a reliable backup point guard. Jalen McDaniels is being worked back in, following a long absence, plus there’s always the possibility Gordon Hayward returns in time for the postseason. Borrego may have some tinkering to do here in the next couple of weeks, especially if the Hornets match up with a team that would require fewer minutes from Mason Plumlee and more small ball.

Rozier has been ice cold in the last three games. The downturn began with a 5-12 shooting performance against Brooklyn and was followed by a 5-14 shooting night against Denver. Against New York, he went 5-16 from the floor and 1-8 from downtown, just his fifth total three-point make in the last three games. Rozier is averaging 3.1 threes made per game this season, so he’ll need to turn it around if the Hornets are looking to make a run. 

The exact play-in matchups and seeding are unlikely to be determined until the final days of the regular season, but the Hornets will be facing either Atlanta, Brooklyn or Cleveland in their first postseason game given that Toronto is far ahead in sixth and the Wizards are far behind in 11th. The Hornets are between the Nets and Hawks in ninth with only a half game separating each team from one another. The first two weeks of April could be quite hectic in the NBA.

Check out the remaining 2021-22 Charlotte Hornets schedule.

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