The Charlotte Hornets are finally producing results that have them within reach of a postseason play-in berth, a goal that has long been a work in progress.
Riding a five-game winning streak, Charlotte will look to keep the momentum going when it plays host to the New York Knicks on Wednesday.
The Hornets ended February at 30-33, but have won seven of nine since them to all but assure themselves of at least a spot in the Eastern Conference play-in tournament. They are now winning games that might have gone the other way earlier in the season.
“Good teams do that. You find a way,” Hornets coach James Borrego said, adding that when the team doesn’t “have your best stuff, shots aren’t falling, you find your way.”
The recent spurt has the Hornets’ confidence soaring. Charlotte has won the first three games of a five-game homestand. The Hornets overcame the Atlanta Hawks 116-106 in a showdown between teams with similar records on March 16, then ran away from the Dallas Mavericks 129-108 on Saturday and finished strong against the New Orleans Pelicans for a 106-103 victory on Monday.
“Just having great resiliency,” said forward Miles Bridges, who leads seven Charlotte players averaging double-figure scoring, putting up 20 points per game. “I feel that earlier in the year we would have lost that game (to New Orleans).”
To bypass the play-in event, the Hornets would have to jump over three teams and gain four games in the standings to get to sixth place in the East.
“We’re showing growth right now,” Borrego said. “We’ve got 10 to go. Finding the right combination every single night (is the key).”
The Knicks are coming off a 117-111 loss to visiting Atlanta on Tuesday, a result that guarantees New York will finish with a losing record for the eighth time in nine seasons.
New York is an extreme longshot to reach the play-in tournament, trailing the 10th-place Hawks by six games with 10 games to play.
“The position we’re in, they’re all must-have games,” Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau said. “You’re not eliminated until you’re eliminated so keep fighting. … Crazy things happen in sports.”
The Knicks were without forward Julius Randle (sore right quadriceps) on Tuesday, and he is listed as day-to-day. In his place, Obi Toppin made his third start of the season, finishing with 10 points and seven rebounds.
RJ Barrett picked up some of the slack for the Knicks with 30 points and 13 rebounds.
“It’s been a sense of urgency all year,” Barrett said. “We just fight, that’s what we do. We’ve been playing great basketball honestly since the All-Star break. Some of these games have slipped away, but there’s nothing else we can do besides just get better every day.”
The Hornets have defeated the Knicks in both matchups this season. Bridges was the top scorer for Charlotte in both of those games, including pouring in 38 in the most recent meeting, on Jan. 17 in New York.