Suns game first of many key tilts to close 2010-11

Tuesday, March 15, 2011
By: Jim Eichenhofer, Hornets.com

When the NBA schedule was unveiled all the way back in August, it would’ve been impossible to predict this, but the close of the Hornets’ 2010-11 regular season slate could not have been created more appropriately as it relates to the ongoing Western Conference playoff race.

Even though New Orleans (39-30) – currently in sixth place in the West – only has 13 games remaining, the Hornets still have a total of nine games left against the seventh-, eighth-, ninth-, 10th- and 11th-place teams. That stretch begins on Wednesday night, with a 7 p.m. home game against the Phoenix Suns. Here’s a chart listing the total number of games vs. each opponent in that group, based on the order of the current West standings:
No. 7 Portland (1 game remaining vs. Trail Blazers)
No. 8 Memphis (2)
No. 9 Utah (2)
No. 10 Phoenix (3)
No. 11 Houston (1)
In other words, there are only four New Orleans games remaining that are NOT against West teams presently slotted in spots 7 through 11. The Hornets host the Celtics this Saturday, visit the Lakers on March 27, host the Pacers on April 3 and wrap up the 82-game slate with a visit to the Mavericks on April 13. That’s it. Other than that quartet of games, there should be major implications for both teams in every Hornets game from now until mid-April.

Incidentally, New Orleans’ magic number to qualify for the playoffs is 12. Since the best record any team currently out of the top eight of the standings can finish with would be Phoenix at 50-32, it means that the Hornets can ensure a postseason berth by going 51-31 or better. Since 51 minus the 39 victories New Orleans currently has equals 12, it makes the team’s magic number 12. That magic number can be reached by any combination of New Orleans wins and Phoenix losses that adds up to 12 or more over the remainder of the season. That also means that by defeating the Suns head-to-head on Wednesday, the magic number would be sliced to 10.

Meanwhile, the following is our weekly look at what national websites are saying about the Hornets in power rankings, with comments from each site:

SportingNews.com (10th, up 4 spots): “It will be a tough finish for the Hornets, who play all 14 of their remaining games against teams in the playoffs or fighting to get in.”

ESPN.com (12th, up 3 spots): “It was only the Kings, true, but give CP3 his post-concussion props: 33 points, 15 assists, seven boards and five steals in the same game has only been done by three others: Magic, Michael and, um, Nate Robinson!”

SI.com (13th, up 3 spots): “Loyal readers know that I’m a pretty reliable scold on the need for Chris Paul to shoot more frequently. Returning from a two-game absence caused by a concussion, he totaled 37 shots against Sacramento and Denver, his highest two-game total of the season. The result was merely a 1-1 split, but given that Paul made more than half of those shots while also recording 25 assists against only four turnovers, he's proved that he can both enable his teammates and go for his own on offense. He's already third behind Steve Nash and Rondo in assist percentage for his team; now he needs to take more than 11.5 shots per game for a club that ranks 22nd in offensive efficiency and is in a tight race for a playoff spot with just 13 games to play.”

NBA.com (14th, up 2 spots): “After the Hornets pulled off a miracle comeback against the Mavs, Chris Paul returned from a two-game absence on Saturday. And he didn't just come back, he had easily his best performance of the season, putting up 33 points, seven rebounds, 15 assists and five steals in a win over the Kings.”