Charlotte Hornets: Taking Care Of Business

Feb 21, 2016; Brooklyn, NY, USA; Charlotte Hornets guard Kemba Walker (15) shoots over Brooklyn Nets center Brook Lopez (11) in first half at Barclays Center. Mandatory Credit: William Hauser-USA TODAY Sports
Feb 21, 2016; Brooklyn, NY, USA; Charlotte Hornets guard Kemba Walker (15) shoots over Brooklyn Nets center Brook Lopez (11) in first half at Barclays Center. Mandatory Credit: William Hauser-USA TODAY Sports /

The Charlotte Hornets have won five games in a row and look poised to make a playoff run if they can continue beating the weaker teams in the NBA.

Consistency is key in the NBA, especially if you are a middle tier team that is on the fringes of playoff contention. The difference between grabbing the seventh or eighth seed and sliding into the lottery could be a single game.

That’s why it’s essential that you beat the teams you’re better than, especially the bottom-dwellers of the league. You can’t expect to make the playoffs if you occasionally drop a game against the Brooklyn Nets or the Philadelphia 76ers. You have to take care of business and win the games you are supposed to win.

That’s been a challenge at times for the 2015-16 Charlotte Hornets. They have a 29-26 record, but they’ve dropped games to the Phoenix Suns, the Denver Nuggets, the New Orleans Pelicans and the Milwaukee Bucks so far this season. They have reached their quota for losing winnable games, and it’s time for them to buckle down or their current hold on a coveted playoff spot will be brief.

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In their first game after the All-Star Break, the Hornets did exactly what they needed to do against a weaker opponent. The Bucks aren’t pushovers and they actually have a talented roster, but they’re a team Charlotte should beat (Milwaukee is 23-33 this season). Despite struggling with Milwaukee’s length, Charlotte came away with a 98-95 win against the Bucks.

Cody Zeller had one of the best games of his career, scoring 23 points and grabbing nine rebounds. The absence of Al Jefferson these last few months has allowed Zeller to come into his own. In increased playing time he has proven that he has what it takes to be a solid NBA big man.

Kemba Walker continued to build upon his career best season. Walker finished the game with 25 points, six rebounds and four assists. Jeremy Lamb’s 14 points off the bench also helped, as the rest of the team struggled offensively. Jeremy Lin couldn’t quite get his shot going and he went 1-for-8 from the floor, but his relentless defense on Khris Middleton led to Milwaukee’s best shooter going an inefficient 6-for-17 from the field. In the end, the Hornets did just enough to win. That’s all that matters.

Sunday evening they would face an even worse opponent, as they traveled to Brooklyn to take on the lowly Nets. Once again the Hornets would win in a game in which they were significantly favored.

Kemba Walker was outstanding, leading all scorers with 28 points. Nicolas Batum flirted with a triple-double, finishing with 16 points, eight assists and seven rebounds. The recently activated Al Jefferson also contributed significantly to the victory. Big Al looked like the Al of old, scoring 18 points and grabbing seven rebounds in 24 minutes of action.

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Also of note, Courtney Lee made his Hornets debut. The former Grizzly scored five points on 2-of-4 shooting and played active defense on the perimeter. Once he becomes fully immersed in Steve Clifford’s system, Lee should be an excellent addition to the squad. After a slow start, Charlotte’s defense clamped down on Brooklyn. They held the Nets to 43.2 percent shooting and 22.7 percent from three-point range.

The win brings Charlotte to 29-26 on the season and it makes five victories in a row. They are finally healthy, other than losing Michael Kidd-Gilchrist for the season, and the rest of their schedule is in their favor. Sixteen of their final 27 games come against teams with winning percentages below .500. This includes three meetings with the 76ers and two more with the Nets.

If they keep winning against teams with losing records, and steal just a few games against high quality teams, then they will most likely make the playoffs. But, Charlotte doesn’t want to just make the playoffs. They want to get in and win a game, or even a series. The organization hasn’t won a playoff game in the Bobcats/new Hornets era.

For that to happen, they’ll need to avoid the Cleveland Cavaliers and probably the Toronto Raptors too. That means landing the sixth seed or higher, which also means they can’t just beat up on the bad teams around the NBA. They have to beat good teams too.

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In the next three games they’ll face the Cavs, the Indiana Pacers and the Atlanta Hawks — a significant step up from their last two opponents. Can they beat the big boys late in the season with playoff seeding on the line? We’ll find out soon enough.