West scramble has ramifications for Hornets

Tuesday, March 20, 2012
By: Jim Eichenhofer, Hornets.com

Lost amid the awkwardness of Chris Mullin’s Golden State jersey-retirement ceremony Monday in Oakland was the fact that there was a game played between the Warriors and Minnesota Timberwolves, yet another key matchup for the Wolves. On its current seven-game road swing, Minnesota picked up a much-needed 97-93 victory, improving to 2-3 with games remaining later this week at San Antonio and Oklahoma City, the Western Conference’s two best teams.

With New Orleans’ second first-round draft pick on June 30 to be based on where the Wolves finish in the standings, the ongoing chase for the playoffs has taken on added meaning for the Hornets. After Dallas’ one-sided victory in Denver last night, there are currently six West teams that appear to be in relatively good shape in terms of reaching the postseason. After that group, there are six other teams vying for the remaining two playoff slots, with only 3.5 games separating current No. 7 Denver (25-21) and 12th-place Portland (21-24). Minnesota (23-24) is in 11th place with only 19 games remaining on its regular season schedule. The Hornets and Timberwolves have one head-to-head contest left, on April 7 in New Orleans.

Although there are still five-plus weeks remaining before the 66-game schedule wraps up on April 26, if the season ended today, the pick handed over to the Hornets from the Clippers would yield the No. 12 slot in the May 30 draft lottery. The lottery's 13th and 14th spots would go to Utah (23-22) and Phoenix (23-22), the only current non-playoff clubs with better records than Minnesota. Certainly there are far too many games still on the docket to have any idea how this will all shake out, but the Wolves have a few upcoming dates that could bear watching in terms of their playoff hopes. They still have three games remaining against seventh-place Denver (March 25, April 11, April 26), as well as one matchup vs. ninth-place Phoenix (April 9).