For once the schedule-maker didn’t seem like the Charlotte Hornets’ enemy.
They have been through a slew of back-to-back games and sometimes five games in seven nights. But Saturday the schedule served up a gimme after the Atlanta Hawks clinched top seed in the Eastern Conference Friday.
The Hawks sat all five of their regular starters and the Hornets took advantage in the second half, outscoring the Southeast Division champions 58-48 for a 115-100 victory.
You can say who cares, seeing as how the Hornets beat a bunch of substitutes. But this one felt big in the standings after the 31-41 Hornets lost in double-overtime Friday on the road to the Washington Wizards.
This victory sets up a home game of great consequence Monday against the Boston Celtics, who are currently in eighth place in the East. The Celtics (32-40) play a home game Sunday against the Los Angeles Clippers. Should they lose that game, the Hornets would overtake the Celtics with a victory and also clinch the tiebreaker, via a 3-1 season series advantage.
“It’ll be huge. Monday could be the game of the season,” said power forward Marvin Williams. “They play hard, they’re really well coached. We definitely have to be ready.”
Williams has been filling in as a starter with Cody Zeller still recovering from a sprained right shoulder. He made a difference Saturday, making three 3-pointers on the way to 17 points and five rebounds.
This was a night when the Hornets’ lesser lights needed to pick up the load. Center Al Jefferson, who played 40 minutes Friday in Washington, looked exhausted in scoring two points on 1-of-5 shooting. Backup point guard Mo Williams went scoreless in the first half, but finished with 18 points, making four 3-pointers.
The Hornets also played without small forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, who sprained his left ankle Friday. Hornets coach Steve Clifford said pre-game Kidd-Gilchrist would miss at least 7-10 days with the injury.
Clifford chose to go with little-used Jeff Taylor as a replacement starter. Taylor didn’t do much offensively, scoring nine points on 3-of-6 shooting, but Clifford said Taylor was locked in all game and contributed on defense.
This was just the 19th game Taylor has played this season after being suspended by the NBA early on for a domestic violence incident in Michigan.
He wasn’t the only Hornet with surprising impact. Backup center Bismack Biyombo finished with nine points and 11 rebounds. Rookie P.J. Hairston, playing for only the third time since Jan. 31, hit all four of his field-goal attempts for 12 points.
That was a factor in a relative rarity this season – the Hornets shooting better than 50 percent for a game (52.5 percent).
Shooting guard Gerald Henderson (20 points) played a big role in that, making nine of his 10 attempts. After a 2-of-9 first half, point guard Kemba Walker came back to finish 7-of-19 for 21 points.
“We just needed to leave (the loss in Washington) behind us. Obviously it was a tough loss,” said Henderson. “Just come out, no matter who (the Hawks) were playing, and win the game.
“Moving forward (Monday) has big implications obviously. We want to make the playoffs – that’s what it comes down to. Whoever wants that game more will win the game.”
Bonnell: 704-358-5129; Twitter: @rick_bonnell