The first half of the Charlotte Hornets’ season has incinerated their playoff chances, right? This team can’t possibly bounce back from a 15-23 start to be one of the eight playoff teams in the Eastern Conference, right?
Wrong, actually. According to Elias Sports Bureau, dozens of teams in NBA history had 15 or fewer victories at this juncture in an 82-game NBA season, and still reached the playoffs. Among the more recent examples: The Hornets.
The 2013-14 team, then still called the Bobcats, were also 15-23 after 38 games. They finished 43-39 (although it took the Bobcats winning eight of their last nine games to reach that record).
The Hornets played some of their best basketball this season during the recent 3-1 West Coast trip. They came back from that trip feeling more confident and more in synch. Those road victories over the Sacramento Kings, Los Angeles Lakers and, particularly, the reigning champion Golden State Warriors will only mean something if they are validated by what is about to happen at Spectrum Center.
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The Hornets play eight of their next nine games at home, starting Wednesday against the Dallas Mavericks. The Hornets have been off from games since Friday, when they beat the Lakers in Staples Center. So there is every expectation for them to be rested and healthy going into this long home stand.
It could effectively decide how motivated this veteran team is to at least get into the playoff draw.
“We’re still confident. There is still so much basketball, like 40 games left,” said Hornets captain Kemba Walker. “We just can’t rest. We’ve had a couple of really bad stretches and hopefully that is behind us. We are playing really well as a group.
“Things are right there for us. I think we are 4 1/2 games out of eighth” place in the East.
Through Monday’s games, the Hornets were 11th in the East, six games behind the Indiana Pacers, eighth in the East (representing the last playoff spot). It isn’t just how many games the Hornets would have to make up, it’s also how many teams they would have to pass in the standings. In addition to the Pacers, the Hornets would have to pass the Philadelphia 76ers and the New York Knicks in the standings.
This is doable: Five teams (Portland, Boston, Charlotte and Philadelphia twice) have qualified for the playoffs after winning 15 or fewer games through 38 games played over the last 10 seasons.
“We talk about it quite a bit,” said acting coach Stephen Silas. “Our record doesn’t look great, but if you look at our games back from eighth or games back from seventh, we’re right there. If we put a good stretch together, like we did on the road, if we’re consistent, we’ll have a good shot.”
Best argument in favor of the Hornets’ chances to put together a big second-half surge: They have so far played the toughest schedule in the NBA, in terms of opponent winning percentage. The opponents in the composite of the 38 games played so far have won 52.3 percent of their games this season. Philadelphia and Dallas are tied for second-toughest schedules so far, at 52.2 percent.
Best argument against the Hornets chances to put together a big second-half surge: They have already played 20 of their 41 total regular-season home games, and are just 10-10 at Spectrum Center. By the end of the upcoming home stand, the Hornets will have only 13 home games left between Jan. 27 and the end of the season.
But those are external factors, beyond the players’ and coaches’ control. Walker said the focus is on retaining what made this team better out West, and building on that improvement.
“It took everybody a while to figure out out,” Walker said of improved ball movement and defensive rotations. “Now, we’re trusting each other. When guys are getting beaten, the next guy is there to help him. Offensively, we’re moving the basketball, making the extra pass, which is always important.
“Some teams just take longer to really gell. That’s how it was for us - to really get used to each other. Now, we’re in a good groove, and hopefully maintain that.”
Bonnell: 704-358-5129; Twitter: @rick_bonnell