Home games vs. Bobcats, Jazz highlight April

Thursday, April 1, 2010
By: Jim Eichenhofer, Hornets.com

With relatively little or no pressure on them, teams out of the NBA playoff hunt at this stage can still greatly impact the race by beating contending teams. As it turns out though, of the Hornets’ six remaining opponents, only two of them realistically have a great deal to play for heading down the stretch.

Among New Orleans’ six foes, only Charlotte and Utah are in the midst of a heated battle for playoff positioning. The others – Memphis, New Jersey, Minnesota and Houston – are either already eliminated or on the verge of being officially crossed off the list of potential postseason qualifiers.

“We’re just trying to win games,” Hornets center Emeka Okafor said. “If that includes spoiling, then I guess that’s what it includes. (But) our main focus is to win games and improve.”

In a scheduling quirk, no NBA team plays fewer games in April than the Hornets (35-41), although Sacramento and Utah both also have just six scheduled contests this month.

A brief look at New Orleans’ closing stretch, the first time since 2004-05 that the Hornets have been officially eliminated prior to April Fool’s Day:
Friday, April 2 at Memphis (38-36)
Saturday, April 3 at New Jersey (10-65)

The Hornets can still catch the Grizzlies for third place in the Southwest Division standings, but it’s not likely, at four games behind them. New Orleans holds a 2-1 series edge, so a win in Tennessee would seal the tiebreaker. Memphis’ April schedule is brutal, with visits to Orlando, Dallas, San Antonio, Denver and Oklahoma City all over the final seven games.
The Nets recently breathed a huge sigh of relief when they upset the Spurs on Monday, picking up their 10th victory of the season and ensuring that they won’t equal the worst single-season record in NBA history. In relative terms, New Jersey has been playing very well of late, winning three of its last five games.
Wednesday, April 7 vs. Charlotte (39-35)
Friday, April 9 vs. Utah (50-26)
Sunday, April 11 vs. Minnesota (15-60)

The first two games are virtually guaranteed to carry major significance in the Eastern Conference and Western Conference races, respectively. By the time the Bobcats visit New Orleans, they will only have five games left on their schedule. Currently in seventh place in the East and four games ahead of ninth-place Chicago, it could be an important night for the Bobcats in their quest to secure a first-ever playoff berth.
The Jazz’s trip to NOLA is the third-to-last game of 2009-10 for Utah, which is locked in an extremely tight race for a No. 2 seed in the Western Conference and the top spot in the Northwest Division. A New Orleans victory over Utah would mean a head-to-head Hornets split with the Jazz for the first time since the 2004-05 season.
Minnesota is all but assured of finishing with the second-worst record in the NBA. The Timberwolves will have just two games to go after the trip to the Big Easy.
Wednesday, April 14 at Houston (37-37)

For the third consecutive year, the Hornets will close the regular season in the Lone Star State. Last season, the 82nd game was at San Antonio; in 2007-08 it was in Dallas. This is also the fifth straight time that New Orleans wraps up the regular season on the road. The last time the Hornets played their 82nd game on their home floor was April 20, 2005.
The Rockets are only one loss from being officially eliminated. It’s possible that the April 14 game could determine fourth place in the Southwest, if the Hornets can close their current three-game deficit.