With forward Miles Bridges is still on track to be cleared to play, the Charlotte Hornets have two games left to secure their play-in seeding
The Hornets lost to the Los Angeles Clippers on Thursday, their third consecutive loss. Bridges has missed the past six games following a COVID-19 diagnosis.
The Hornets cling to eighth place in the Eastern Conference standings at 33-37. While they are tied in record with the Indiana Pacers, the Hornets hold the tiebreaker over Indiana.
There is a big difference between finishing eighth and ninth in the NBA’s play-in format: The Nos. 7 and 8 teams get two chances to win one game to advance to the playoffs. If the ninth- or 10th-place teams lose one game next week, that team’s season is over.
The Hornets play 1 p.m. road games Saturday at the New York Knicks and Sunday at the Washington Wizards. Washington is the other team the Hornets are holding off for 8th seed.
What you need to know entering the crucial final weekend of Charlotte’s regular season:
Bridges’ return likely; can he make a difference?
A source familiar with the Hornets’ medical issues said Bridges continues to progress toward clearance to play. Charlotte went 2-4 of late, which partially reflects what a big factor Bridges has become in the Hornets’ success this season.
The question is how much Bridges would be up to playing and how effective he would be after a bout with COVID-19. Likely he will need to play in short stints, and there’s no telling how his conditioning will be. Coach James Borrego said Wednesday he’d need to be very cautious in how he uses Bridges if he’s cleared to play.
There is no expectation that small forward Gordon Hayward, who has been out with a right foot sprain since April 2, will be cleared to play this weekend or likely next week. Hayward was cleared to start doing weight-bearing exercises but has yet to practice. The Hornets weren’t scheduled to practice Friday before flying to New York.
Pacers’ and Wizards’ final games
The Pacers lost to the Milwaukee Bucks on Thursday, which avoided the Hornets dropping to ninth. The Pacers’ final two games are Saturday at home against the Los Angeles Lakers and Sunday on the road against the Toronto Raptors (in Tampa, Fla.)
The Wizards play at home against the Cleveland Cavaliers on Friday. They host the Hornets Sunday afternoon.
X-factors for Pacers, Wizards
The Pacers have already clinched a play-in spot and the Wizards will with either their next victory or a Chicago Bulls loss.
A nuance each for the Pacers and Wizards:
Lakers’ stakes: The Portland Trail Blazers losing to the Phoenix Suns late Thursday helped the Lakers’ chances of finishing 6th in the West and avoiding the play-in. That’s significant in that it gives the Lakers’ added stakes against the Pacers on Saturday. The Hornets need the Pacers to lose just about as much as Charlotte needs to win at least one of the next two.
That’s Beal’s third consecutive game missed with a hamstring strain, and the Wizards lost both those prior games to the Atlanta Hawks on Monday and Wednesday. That leaves to question whether Beal would play Sunday versus the Hornets.
The Hornets have already clinched two-team tiebreakers over the Pacers and Wizards this season by winning two games against each of those teams.
If the Hornets, Pacers and Wizards all end the season with the same record, it’s a bit more complicated. First tiebreaker in a three-team tie would be if any of those teams won its division, which doesn’t apply. Next tiebreaker is head-to-head winning percentage among those teams.
The Hornets are currently 4-1 against the Pacers and Wizards. The Wizards are 3-2. The Pacers are 1-5, since they were swept 3-0 by the Wizards this season.
Sunday’s Hornets-Wizards game could be huge to settling play-in seedings.