Hornets within 1.5 games of division lead, No. 2 seed

Tuesday, March 24, 2009
By: Jim Eichenhofer, Hornets.com

Time for a look at the current Western Conference standings and seedings race (entering Tuesday’s games). Wednesday night’s Denver-New Orleans game is shaping up as a matchup that could provide another major shakeup in the chase for playoff positioning:

WESTERN CONFERENCE
1, L.A. LAKERS 55-14 (11 games ahead of New Orleans)

Season series vs. Hornets: Lakers won 3-1.
Magic number to wrap up No. 1 seed is down to 3.

2, HOUSTON 47-25 (1.5 games ahead of New Orleans)
Season series vs. Hornets: Rockets lead 2-1. Fourth and final meeting is April 13 in Houston.
If Hornets beat Rockets on April 13, tiebreaker would be division record, which would almost certainly go in favor of New Orleans. Right now Houston is 8-6 in Southwest Division games with only two more to play, while New Orleans is 7-4 and has five more division games.

3, SAN ANTONIO 45-24 (1 game ahead of New Orleans)
Season series vs. Hornets: Tied 1-1. Third meeting is March 29 in New Orleans, fourth and final meeting is April 15 in San Antonio.
On Sunday, San Antonio visits NOLA, where it has gone 1-5 in its previous six games – but the victory was Game 7 of the Western Conference semifinals last spring.

4, DENVER 45-26 (tied with New Orleans)
Season series vs. Hornets: Hornets lead 2-1. Fourth and final meeting is Wednesday.
It’s important to note that although the Nuggets have a lower winning percentage than the Hornets, they are currently listed as the fourth seed because Denver is leading the Northwest Division, and division winners are guaranteed to be placed among the top four seeds.

5, NEW ORLEANS 44-25
Of the Hornets’ next six games, two are home games against opponents with winning records, while the other four are road games against opponents with losing records.

6, UTAH 43-26 (1 game behind New Orleans)
Season series vs. Hornets: Jazz lead 2-0. Third and final meeting is April 5 in New Orleans.
Jazz may have the most brutal remaining schedule of any team, still having to travel to Phoenix, Portland, Denver, New Orleans, Dallas, San Antonio and the Lakers.

7, PORTLAND 44-27 (1 game behind New Orleans)
Season series vs. Hornets: Tied 2-2, but New Orleans is guaranteed the tiebreaking advantage, based on conference record.
Trail Blazers’ next three games are in the Rose Garden, giving them golden opportunity to move up the standings.

8, DALLAS 42-28 (2.5 games behind New Orleans)
Season series vs. Hornets: Hornets lead 2-0. Third meeting is April 10 in Dallas, fourth and final meeting is April 12 in New Orleans.
Mavericks’ lead over Suns for eighth place is down to three games. Dallas leads season series over Phoenix 2-1.

9, PHOENIX 39-31 (5.5 games behind New Orleans)
Season series vs. Hornets: Hornets lead 2-0. Third and final meeting is April 8 in New Orleans.
New Orleans’ magic number to seal its second straight postseason berth is down to 7.

FAQ’s
A few frequently-asked questions regarding the Hornets and the race for Western Conference playoff berths:
• The Hornets are listed as the fifth seed right now, but they have a better winning percentage than Denver. Why?
Because division leaders/winners are guaranteed a top-four seed, regardless of record. Whether it’s Denver, Utah or Portland, whichever team ends up winning the Northwest Division title will be assured of one of the top four slots.
• Can a team that finishes out of the top four seeds still have homecourt advantage in the first round?
Yes. If the fifth-seeded team (New Orleans by the current standings) has a better record than the fourth-seeded team (Denver at the moment), the No. 5 seed will still have the homecourt edge despite the worse seed. This happened during the 2007 Western playoffs, when Utah went 51-31 and was the fourth seed by virtue of winning the Northwest Division. Houston went 52-30 that season and secured the fifth seed, but held homecourt over the Jazz due to its superior regular season record.
• Can the Hornets finish among the top four seeds if they remain in third place in the Southwest Division?
No. Since the top four seeds are comprised of the three division winners (Southwest, Northwest and Pacific in the Western Conference) and the team with the next-best record, it is impossible to finish higher than a 5 seed if a team places third in its division. However, as mentioned in the previous bullet point, that doesn’t preclude a team from having homecourt advantage in the first round.