With the NBA’s regular season winding down, the Charlotte Hornets have been one of the league’s biggest surprises. They continue to climb the Eastern Conference standings, and a favorable upcoming schedule could help them earn a top-three seed.
Coming off a big win over the Miami Heat, Charlotte improved their record to 39-29. The Hornets currently hold the No.6 seed in the East, but they are just a half-game behind the No.3 seed Atlanta Hawks. The Boston Celtics, Miami, Charlotte and Atlanta are all tied in the loss column with a month remaining before the start of the playoffs.
A year after going 33-49 and missing the playoffs, Charlotte has easily surpassed last season’s win total without making any major offseason additions. Nicolas Batum was traded to the Hornets in June in a deal that went under the radar, but he’s been one of the team’s most important players. Batum’s 14.8 points per game rank second on the team, and he fills out the rest of the stat sheet with 6.3 rebounds and 5.3 assists per night.
Kemba Walker is leading the team in scoring for a second straight season, but he’s elevated his game to a new level. The point guard is putting up career-highs with 21.4 points per game, 43.5 percent shooting from the field and 38.3 percent shooting from three-point range.
Because Walker and Batum have been so valuable in the backcourt, Charlotte has been able to thrive without Jeremy Lin playing his best. The combo guard is averaging 11.4 points per game, and his 40.2 percent field-goal shooting and 2.9 assists per game are his worst numbers since he became a regular rotation player in 2012.
The Hornets were hoping to get the Lin that averaged close to 30 points and five assists per game with the Houston Rockets. But after playing well in December and January, Lin is in the midst of his worst month in a year. He’s averaging 8.4 points per game on 30.6 percent shooting in March, and he’s seen his minutes continue to decrease as he’s totaled just 12 points in the last three games.
However, Lin has been in slumps before and often quickly snaps out of them. Last March with the Los Angeles Lakers, Lin had a stretch when averaged just 8.7 points per game, and shot 30.4 percent, only to bounce back the next four games by averaging 21.2 points on 50 percent shooting.
With or without Lin at his best, the Hornets are the NBA’s hottest team, other than the Golden State Warriors and San Antonio Spurs, who are having historic regular seasons. The Hornets are 16-4 since the start of February, and they’ve won nine of 10 games this month. A look ahead to Charlotte’s remaining schedule indicates that their winning ways have a good chance to continue.
Only one of the Hornets’ next seven games are against a team with a winning record. After games with the Denver Nuggets and Spurs, Charlotte visits the Brooklyn Nets, Detroit Pistons and Milwaukee Bucks. They’ll play a home-and-home with the Philadelphia 76ers, who have a league-worst nine wins.
The Cleveland Cavaliers and Toronto Raptors will assuredly get the top two seeds in the East, and Charlotte has to play each team one more time. But the Hornets have beaten each team once this year, and games in April against the Nets, New York Knicks and Orlando Magic could help them get a very favorable seed.