Conference Call: Blazers expand lead to 4 games

Tuesday, March 2, 2010
By: Jim Eichenhofer, Hornets.com

With just six weeks and 21 games remaining in the regular season, the margin of error for the Hornets (31-30) to make a run at a playoff berth is quickly shrinking. Monday was a worst-case scenario for New Orleans, which lost to seventh-place San Antonio, while eighth-place Portland won in Memphis.

The Hornets’ remaining schedule is extremely difficult, including seven of the next 10 games on the road, a stretch consisting of trips to top-eight West clubs San Antonio, Oklahoma City, Phoenix, Denver and Utah.

“If we play our way in (to the postseason), we will have earned it,” Hornets coach Jeff Bower said prior to last night’s defeat.

Tonight's NBA schedule is surprisingly light, with no teams in action that are currently within reasonable striking distance of the Hornets in the race. Let’s take a closer look at the West playoff chase, starting with the teams that are fewer than 5 games ahead of New Orleans at the moment:

7, SAN ANTONIO 34-24 (4.5 games ahead of New Orleans)
Season series: Spurs lead 3-0, clinching tiebreaker. Remaining game: March 5 at San Antonio.
The Spurs have a very difficult remaining schedule compared to most teams in the Western Conference race, but having locked up the tiebreaker with the Hornets, they are essentially 5.5 games ahead. This means, for example, that if the Spurs only play .500 basketball the rest of the way (finishing 46-36), the Hornets would need to go a scorching 16-5 (finishing 47-35) to surpass them in the standings.

8, PORTLAND 36-27 (4 games ahead of New Orleans)
Season series: Tied 1-1. Remaining game: March 27 at NOLA.
The Trail Blazers are now relatively healthy with Brandon Roy and Marcus Camby back in the lineup from recent injuries. The Hornets’ best chance to remain in the conversation for the West playoffs might be to pull within 2 or 3 games of the Trail Blazers by that March 27 meeting. New Orleans is scheduled to play 12 games between now and then, including a five-game road trip. Realistically, the Hornets can’t lose any more ground on the Blazers over the next three weeks, or that March 27 tilt could be moot. When Portland comes to the Hive that night, New Orleans will only have nine games left on its 82-game slate.

9, HOUSTON 30-29 (tied with New Orleans)
Season series: Hornets lead 2-1. Remaining game: April 14 at Houston.
The Rockets are officially listed ahead of the Hornets in the West standings based on a winning percentage that is better by the slimmest of margins, but New Orleans currently holds the tiebreaker. Working in Houston’s favor over the next week-plus: Five consecutive games against opponents with losing records (Sacramento, at Minnesota, at Detroit, at Washington, New Jersey).

10, NEW ORLEANS 31-30
Conference record: 20-15. Division record: 7-5.
What will it take mathematically to reach the top eight in the West? Well, given that Portland is currently nine games over .500, if the Blazers break even the rest of the way, they would finish with 45 or 46 wins. For the Hornets to go 45-37, they must go 14-7 from this point forward. New Orleans has 11 home games remaining and 10 away games.

11, MEMPHIS 30-30 (0.5 games behind New Orleans)
Season series: Hornets lead 2-0. Remaining games: March 3 at NOLA, April 2 at Memphis.
The Grizzlies can pull in front of the Hornets in the standings for the first time in quite awhile by posting their first win in the head-to-head series Wednesday. Overall, Memphis’ remaining schedule looks brutal, including an April that consists of visits to Orlando, Dallas, San Antonio, Denver and Oklahoma City.