Obviously, the odds of a team overcoming a deficit like the current 9.5-game gap behind eighth-place Portland are extremely microscopic (in fact, even though the Hornets are technically not out of the hunt, on John Hollingers ESPN.com playoff odds chart today, the Hornets are listed as having a 0.0 percent chance of reaching the postseason). Thats not the point of this. The point is to explain what will or wont eliminate the Hornets officially.
In the simplest terms, if the Hornets lose to the Trail Blazers on Saturday, the Hornets will be eliminated.
If the Hornets win Saturday, they are guaranteed to be mathematically alive at least until Sunday night, when the Trail Blazers will visit Oklahoma City.
Right now, the only two teams among the top eight in the Western Conference that New Orleans could potentially catch are Portland (43-29) and San Antonio (42-28). Although its mathematically possible for the Hornets to finish the regular season with the same number of wins as Oklahoma City (43-27), the Thunder has already wrapped up the tiebreaker based on a 2-1 head-to-head edge.
One more win by San Antonio or one more loss by New Orleans would mean the Hornets cannot catch the Spurs, because San Antonio has the tiebreaker based on a 4-0 head-to-head sweep. The Spurs host Cleveland tonight and are in Boston on Sunday.
One more win by Portland or one more loss by New Orleans would mean the Hornets cannot catch the Trail Blazers, even if the Hornets beat the Blazers on Saturday.
None of the above even mentions the fact that New Orleans also trails Memphis (38-34) and Houston (36-35).
Not related to the math of the playoff race but of consequence later down the road, its very likely that New Orleans will enter the May 18 draft lottery as either the No. 11 or No. 12 team. I will get into this in greater detail as we get closer to the end of the regular season, but for now it probably suffices to say that 11 or 12 should be the Hornets lottery slot. The last two times the Hornets have been in the lottery, they picked 12th in 2006 and 13th in 2007.
Hopefully this helps explain things a bit further if you had questions about the current status of the Hornets in terms of being officially in contention. Perhaps well have a quiz on all of this during Saturdays live chat, so make sure you stop by during the Portland game...