Entering Wednesdays key Western Conference matchup against the Houston Rockets, center Emeka Okafor, guard Jarrett Jack, guard Marco Belinelli, center David Andersen, rookie forward Quincy Pondexter and rookie forward Patrick Ewing Jr. have combined to play in a total of 1,345 official NBA games. None of those have occurred during the postseason, however. The Hornets (44-33) have a chance Wednesday (7 p.m., New Orleans Arena) to bring an end to the lengthy personal droughts of Okafor (seventh NBA season) and Jack (sixth NBA season), while also giving four of their less-experienced teammates their first taste of the playoffs.
No scoreboard watching. No hoping for other teams around the rest of the Western Confernce to lose. Just win against the surging Rockets (41-36) and the Hornets will return to the postseason after sitting out the spring tournament in 2010. Everybody knows (a win against the Rockets can clinch a playoff spot), but we have to only continue to think about the first quarter of that game, Hornets head coach Monty Williams said. Weve put ourselves in this position. Now we have to take advantage of it.
The Rockets are in action Tuesday in a home game against the Sacramento Kings, but even if the Kings pull off an upset, it would merely reduce New Orleans magic number to 1. Houston is 15-5 since the All-Star break, playing outstanding basketball in recent weeks. By winning in the Hive on Wednesday, the Rockets will keep their postseason hopes alive for at least three more days before they return to action Saturday vs. the Clippers. Incidentally, Houston owns the tiebreaking advantage over No. 8 Memphis (44-33) by virtue of a 3-1 season series. The Grizzlies, who host the Clippers tonight, therefore have a playoff magic number of 3.
The Hornets are one of only four NBA teams not playing Tuesday during a busy post-NCAA championship night around the league. Here is our weekly look at what other websites are saying about the Hornets in power rankings:
NBA.com (12th, same as previous week): Carl Landry is averaging 20.2 points on 54 percent shooting in his five starts, but the Hornets new starting lineup hasn't been great defensively (108.7 in 87 minutes) and they got destroyed on the boards in Friday's loss to the Grizzlies. The two teams are now tied for seventh and meet again in Memphis on Sunday.
ESPN.com (12th, up 1 spot): Like Karl and McMillan, Monty Williams is another guy who can't buy a COY mention. Quite a rookie season when you factor in the sale of the team to the NBA, D-West's season-ending knee injury and the constant CP3 chatter.
SI.com (13th, up 1 spot): There are a lot of superb coaches in the NBA, but perhaps no one has done more with less than Monty Williams. The Hornets rarely beat themselves, sealing off the glass (only Howard's Magic and the Bulls and their strong front line allow a lower percentage of offensive rebounds) and taking care of the ball (they are third in fewest turnovers committed). Williams has adeptly mixed and matched the nondescript players on the roster, with two recent examples being Willie Green's fourth-quarter scoring splurge to beat Portland last Wednesday and backup center Aaron Gray's effective mucking the last few weeks. Meanwhile, the leaders are leading, with standard-issue brilliance from Chris Paul and a career season from center Emeka Okafor, who dominated Roy Hibbert in Sunday's win over Indiana.
SportingNews.com (13th, down 1 spot): New Orleans spot in the playoffs is secure. Now the goal is to work up to that No. 6 spot and dodge the Lakers or Spurs.