After a horrible 6 game losing streak, we have officially seen the highs and the extreme lows of the Charlotte Hornets. While the season is still early, it is fair to say that they will not get much worse than they were in those 6 games, barring a significant injury to a key player. This horrid stretch was riddled with stagnant offense, an incompetent defense, and much like last year a knack for blowing 4th quarter leads. Granted this did come at the hands of MKG and Nic being absent for a majority of the stretch, it was still very alarming to watch. With all this being said we have also been able to see a side of the Hornets that looks like it could compete for the Eastern Conference Finals. The difference in these two sides is night and day, Howard is putting up crazy numbers, the team is moving the ball, and the bench is providing instant offense. While we would all prefer the latter, is it fair to believe it can be sustained?
The first thing that needs to happen if the Hornets are going to reach the Eastern Conference Finals is more consistency, and not just with their level of play. The energy needs to be more consistent. At the start of the season you could feel the energy they were playing with almost every game, but during the last 10 games it has been stagnant. If they can sustain energy from game to game and more importantly for the entire game, it will be a huge step in the right direction. Another area the Hornets need to get more consistent in is Clifford’s rotations. The team has played well together, but it is harder for players to be prepared when they are exiting and entering the game at times they are not expecting. The biggest player having to work with this is Malik Monk. Clifford has been inconsistent with the minutes he has given to Monk and that lack of consistency can be crippling for a rookie. There have been games when Monk plays all the way to the end of the 4th like at the Knicks, and others like the two home games against the Clippers and Wizards where he did not touch the court. Monk also is not ready to play yet I personally believe, but in his defense when the minutes are inconsistent it is hard to always be prepared. All of the lineup confusion can be attributed to the erratic injuries that have plagued the team up to this point.
With a lack of all-stars in the east due to free agency, and no real impressive team other than the Boston Celtics who are without Gordon Hayward, the Hornets should be able to compete with anyone in the Eastern Conference. They have already beaten Milwaukee and Washington who are considered to be two contenders in the East, and they seem to be a different team in The Hive with a record of 7-2. The biggest problem the team has is winning road games, which can really haunt you come playoff time. They have only won ONE road game the entire season while losing 8, which is not promising for the rest of the season. Hovering around a .500 road record is good, but going 1-8 on the road to begin the season is horrendous. The deciding factors for if the Hornets can make the ECF will be determined by their ability to win road games, stay healthy, and play with consistency, not their ability to beat other teams in the east. We are capable of beating any team on any night. If we can progress in these three things we could be looking at a competitive series in the second round of the playoffs, and be fighting for an Eastern Conference Finals playoff bid.