Charlotte Hornets coach Steve Clifford is a sports fan. Among the teams he follows are soccer’s Manchester United and baseball’s Baltimore Orioles.
So Clifford gets it when he is asked about his team’s various mathematical chances at making the NBA playoffs, especially now that the Hornets (33-40) have drawn to within two games of eighth place in the Eastern Conference with nine to play, including a home game Tuesday against one of the teams they’re chasing, the Milwaukee Bucks.
Clifford gets it; but he doesn’t want to talk about it.
“I think about that stuff when I’m cheering for the Orioles in the summer, but not now,” said Clifford, whose team has won four of its past five games to edge back into the playoff conversation.
“It’s for the fans. But to me, it’s wasted energy.”
I think about that stuff when I’m cheering for the Orioles in the summer, but not now.
That said, Clifford admitted that the 11th-place Hornets are aware of their challenge. Two games separate them from the eighth-place Miami Heat, with the Chicago Bulls and Detroit Pistons (who played at the New York Knicks on Monday) in ninth and 10th place, respectively.
The gap between 11th and eighth tightened to those two games Sunday – a few hours after the Hornets dispatched the Phoenix Suns 120-106 – when the Heat lost in Boston.
“The guys came in (Monday) and they all know Miami lost and Chicago won (against Milwaukee),” Clifford said. “So they’re following the scores and all that.”
Hornets forward Marvin Williams said seeing the Miami-Boston result gave the team a boost.
“Yeah, definitely it did,” Williams said. “We have everything to play for. We’re currently on the outside looking in, but we’re right there.”
The Hornets’ remaining schedule is challenging. Sunday’s game against Phoenix was Charlotte’s final one against a team that’s not likely to make the playoffs (the Denver Nuggets, Friday’s opponent, are tied for eighth in the West).
And the Hornets face other obstacles. Charlotte would lose tiebreakers against Chicago and Detroit, having already lost the season series against each. The Hornets have clinched a tiebreaker against the Heat, however.
“We need to continue to take care of our own business,” said Williams. “And hopefully get a little bit of help.”