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More likely to miss the playoffs this season: The 28-35 Charlotte Hornets? Or the 27-35 Portland Trail Blazers?
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David Aldridge:Charlotte. The Blazers are currently ahead of all of the other playoff contenders in the Western Conference -- Dallas, Minnesota, etc. -- and they only have one team in front of them, eighth-place Denver. And Portland leads the season series with the Nuggets with one game left between them -- which will be in Portland. And, Portland plays 12 of its last 19 at home. Conversely, Charlotte's behind surging Miami and Milwaukee in the Eastern Conference, and New York is right on the Hornets' heels. The Hornets have to catch and pass multiple teams, including Detroit and/or Chicago, who are currently tied for seventh/eighth in the East. Charlotte does lead both Miami and Milwaukee in its respective season series with each, and has two games left with each, so the Hornets have potential tiebreaker advantages on their side. But that's a lot of traffic to have to pass with not many laps left in the race.
Steve Aschburner: In a better world, the correct answer would be both. Finishing below .500 should disqualify any team from the playoffs. The berths that would have gone to such a team should remain unfilled, with the top-seeded contenders in line to match up getting a bye into the conference semifinals. That’s not going to happen, though, so I’ll go with Charlotte as the better bet to miss out. I think both Miami and Milwaukee are going to push hard enough down the stretch to stay in front of the Hornets, and the math out West favors the Blazers (one team to climb over vs. three).
Fran Blinebury: How about both? And does it really matter, because you're only going to get chewed up by the Cavs and Warriors anyway.
Scott Howard-Cooper: Charlotte. I’m not happy to say that because I’ve liked the Hornets all along and have thought they have a lot of reason to be optimistic about this season and into the future, so take it as more of a pro-Blazers than an anti-Buzz. It’s probably dumb logic this late, when you are what you are, but I still have to believe Portland has one good surge left, and one hard push could be all it takes to grab control of No. 8 in the West.
Shaun Powell: The Blazers only need to leapfrog one team while the Hornets must leap over three, so clearly, Charlotte making the playoffs is trickier. That's not to excuse the Blazers. Overall, this has been disappointing, especially defensively. We keep waiting for a team with Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum to snap out of it and go on a tear, but it's March and it hasn't happened already. Time's running out.
John Schuhmann: Charlotte is more likely to miss the playoffs, for sure. The Blazers are just a game in the loss column out of eighth, have just one team -- Denver -- between them and a playoff spot, and have the final head-to-head meeting with the Nuggets at home (having won two of the previous three). Outside that game, they have an easier remaining schedule than Denver, with 13 of their 20 games against teams currently under .500 (Denver has just 9 of its last 19 against those losers) and a very home-heavy schedule after March 19. Dallas and Minnesota are playing well behind Portland, but Charlotte has a tougher landscape, with three teams between the Hornets and a playoff spot. They have a slight schedule advantage over both Chicago and Detroit (and a bigger one over Milwaukee), but Miami is playing really well and has the easiest remaining schedule of those five teams fighting for the last two spots in the East.
Sekou Smith: The Hornets certainly have the tougher road to travel since they are trying to climbing over several teams to get into playoff position. The Nuggets have to find a way to perform consistently enough down the stretch to hold off a handful of challengers for that coveted eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference. I still consider the Nuggets the team best suited, from a roster make-up standpoint, to come out on top of that battle in the West. But there's enough season left that anything could happen. I expect it to come down to the final days of the season for both sides of the conference divide.
Ian Thomsen: The Hornets must overcome No. 10 Milwaukee and the hot Heat before they can think of knocking the Pistons or Bulls out of the final spot. The Blazers face less competition in their conference, and they have more firepower between Damian Lillard C.J. McCollum. Give Portland the edge on this one.
Lang Whitaker: I think the Hornets are more likely to be on the outside looking in. The Blazers have a tougher group to overcome in the West, with Dallas and Minnesota and Denver all tough teams to beat. But as of now the Blazers are just 1 1/2 games behind Denver, and with the addition of Jusuf Nurkic, Portland seems energized. Charlotte has to make up 3 games on Chicago, with a streaking Miami team and Milwaukee in between them.