I say this as a guy that gave up on the Charlotte Hornets making the playoffs. Their late season run has been impressive. They won their fifth straight Tuesday, beating Chicago at home 118-103.
The Bulls are bad. They rested two healthy starters, Robin Lopez and Justin Holiday. Between them Lopez and Holiday average 25.3 points and seven rebounds. But Charlotte’s work was impressive regardless.
Look under NBA leaders Tuesday. The leading scorers were LeBron James and Charlotte’s Kemba Walker with 31 points. Leading in assists were Damian Lillard and Charlotte’s Nic Batum with 12. In a three-way tie for the lead in steals was Charlotte’s Treveon Graham with four.
The Hornets suddenly can shoot. Walker needed 19 field goal attempts to score his 31. Dwight Howard parlayed his 12 field goal attempts into 24 points. Jeremy Lamb scored 15 points on nine field goal attempts, Marvin Williams 14 on eight and Frank Kaminsky 11 on six.
The Hornets have given us a reason to check other scores. The Miami Heat, which holds the eighth and final playoff spot, leads Charlotte by four games. Miami trailed Philadelphia almost all night Tuesday. And then Miami’s Dwayne Wade scored 15 of the Heat’s final 17 points, including the winning shot with 5.9 seconds remaining, to push the Heat to a 102-101 victory.
After Tuesday’s win, the Hornets had 21 games remaining. Thirteen are on the road, and 11 are against teams that presently qualify for the playoffs.
That they’re playing their best basketball of the season is a testament to their coach, Steve Clifford. We knew Carolina Panthers’ coach Ron Rivera’s team believed in him when, even in a losing season, they’d finish strong.
A lot of us quit on the Hornets. We watched them lose too many close games.
But they’ve coaxed us back, and as long as they remain in the playoff race, albeit as a long shot, we’ll stay.
The Hornets have a rough road trip this week: They play at Boston, at Philadelphia and at Toronto. Those teams together are 54 games above .500.
If the Hornets can survive, we’ll be there, in Spectrum Arena, to greet them when they return.