One and done? 10th-seeded Hornets need Tuesday victory to extend their postseason stay
By Richard Walker
The good news for the Charlotte Hornets is that Tuesday’s 6:30 p.m. Eastern Conference play-in game at Indiana Pacers is a new season.
The bad news is the Hornets are the last team in the four-team Eastern Conference play-in tournament so they’ll have to win two games to advance into the 16-team NBA postseason field – and win both of them on the road.
Should Charlotte win on Tuesday, it would advance to an 8 p.m. Thursday game against the loser of Tuesday night’s Washington at Boston play-in game.
Head coach James Borrego knows his team lost its last five games for the team’s longest losing streak of the season. He also knows some of those losses – and others this season – could’ve gone Charlotte’s way and made their postseason challenge not nearly as great.
Borrego also knows his team wasn’t favored to even make the postseason as Las Vegas oddsmakers had the Hornets’ over/under for wins 25 1-2 before the season began in December. And even with the season-ending losing streak, Charlotte finished 33-39 overall.
“We’re right where we want to be,” Borrego told reporters in Monday’s pre-playoff zoom news conference. “If we’d been told at the start of the year that we’d be in the pstseason, we’d have signed up for this.”
Charlotte also faces a team that it beat twice in three meetings this season, including a 114-97 win in the lone meeting at Indiana.
Most importantly, the frustration of the season-ending slump, particularly the back-to-back losses to New York and Washington over the weekend, are certain to motivate the Hornets on Tuesday – and perhaps beyond.
“I get nervous before every game,” Hornets forward Miles Bridges said of whatever type of pressure he may have about the playoffs. “It’s a different type of feel. For us, it’s win or go home. It’s what you play for and everybody’s ready.”
In a season in which Borrego has used 23 different starting lineups and 13 players have missed 148 games due to injury and/or illness, the Hornets declared Gordon Hayward (right foot) and Cody Martin (left ankle) out for Tuesday’s play-in game. It’ll mark the 24th straight game Hayward has been out of action.
“He’s been getting a lot of treatment and a lot of rehab trying to stay in shape,” Cody Zeller said of Hayward, who averaged 19.6 points, 5.9 rebounds and 4.1 assists in 44 starts this season.
Without Hayward, Borrego will rely on veteran guard Terry Rozier’s leadership.
Rozier has 50 games of playoff experience with the Boston Celtics before being acquired in a trade before the 2019-20 season.
“He’s been a rock for us all year,” Borrego said. “And he’s been available. We’ve had guys in and out and some have missed a number of games. He’s embraced this opportunity and he’s worked for it.”
Rozier is the team’s leading scorer at 20.4 points per game with 4.4 rebounds and 4.2 assists in 69 starts this season.
Other contributors have been rookie LaMelo Ball (15.7 points, 5.9 rebounds, 6.1 assists), Devonte’ Graham (14.8 points, 5.4 assists), P.J. Washington (12.9 points, 6.5 rebounds), Bridges (12.7 points, 6.0 rebounds), Malik Monk (11.4 points) and Zeller (9.4 points, 6.8 rebounds).
“I love it for our guys,” Borrego said. “We move forward. We don’t cry about the last game, the last 10 games or any games. We focus on tomorrow.”