After losing a heartbreaking Sunday afternoon game against the Phoenix Suns, the Charlotte Hornets will take to the road to play the next six games before returning back home on April 11th. In an unpredictable year for the Hornets, this road trip will define everything the team will need to do as they push to make the Eastern Conference playoffs.
Following the loss to the Suns, the Hornets are 23-22 on the season and are now tied for fourth place with the New York Knicks and a half-game in front of the Atlanta Hawks for the all-important sixth spot in the standings.
In this shorted season, finishing in the top six spots will prevent the Hornets from having to play in the Eastern Conference play-in games. Depending on where they finish, the Hornets might have to win one or two games in order to make their first playoff appearance since the 2015-2016 season.
As the trip starts against the Washington Wizards on Tuesday night, the Hornets will play four teams that are currently in the Eastern Conference playoff chase (Brooklyn Nets, Indiana Pacers, Boston Celtics, Milwaukee Bucks) and the Oklahoma City Thunder, which is better than their record shows. So far, the team has a 4-2 record against these six teams this season and they haven’t played one game against Boston.
So what makes this trip important?
The Hornets not only enter this trip without the services of LaMelo Ball (wrist injury) and potentially Malik Monk having a foot injury, they are going to need everyone to dig deeper. If you go back to Sunday’s game, head coach James Borrego played three starters over 40 minutes (Gordon Hayward, Terry Rozier and P.J Washington) and Devonte’ Graham 39 minutes against the Suns on Sunday. Giving out heavy minutes can not happen during this road upcoming span of six games in 11 days.
The good news is that there was nothing major as far as damage to Monk’s foot and hopefully he should be available for the Wizards game on Tuesday. He’s important especially since the Hornets don’t have that secondary scorer when Rozier and Graham are off the court resting.
Monk is averaging 13.2 points a game this season and with his size and athleticism, he’s is the only Hornets’ backcourt player who is just as dangerous getting to the rim as he is shooting the ball. With his return, Borrego can extend his bench past Miles Bridges and Cody Martin.
Center of Attention
With good news, there is always not-so-good news. On that front, the play at center has once again been a problem for the Hornets. A unit that lacks size and consistent rim protection has not gotten much from Cody Zeller and Bismack Biyombo. Neither played well against Phoenix and both haven’t been a constant option, forcing Borrego to go to smaller lineups with both Washington and Bridges at center .
During this road trip, the Hornets will have to deal with the Pacers duo of Domatas Sabonis and Miles Turner, the Bucks two-time league MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Nets group of big men (DeAndre Jordan, Blake Griffin, LaMarcus Aldridge, Nicolas Claxton). Charlotte can not have Zeller and Biyombo play less than 15 mins a game if they plan on making this a successful trip.
“Strength” of Schedule
The schedule does not give the Hornets any favors. After traveling to Washington on Tuesday, the team will have to endure the hard part of the trip in a four-day window. They play the Nets on Thursday night, then travel to Indiana on Friday and finish with the Celtics on Sunday.
This stretch of games will be the Eastern Conference version of what they just went through on the west coast two weeks ago. After those games, the team gets two full days off before playing the Oklahoma City the following Wednesday and wrapping up the road trip against the Bucks in Milwaukee on Friday, April 9th.
Success for the Hornets will not just be winning the Washington and Oklahoma City games. Those wins should be expected given the way the team has played over the first 45 games this season. The real success for the Hornets, the fans and the playoff push would be winning at least two of the games against the Nets, Celtics, Pacers and Bucks.
Coming back to Charlotte with winning at least four games on this trip will not only be a success but it will give the team a much-needed tie-breaker against the Pacers. Winning those types of games will not just show the fans but the rest of the league that the Charlotte Hornets are for real.
The Hornets will go 3-3 with wins over Pacers, Thunder and Wizards