The Charlotte Hornets have reached a certain level despite a couple of recent losses.
The Los Angeles Clippers figure they need to keep winning to maintain their spot in the standings.
The teams meet in a game ripe with implications Thursday night in Charlotte, N.C.
Despite losing their past two games, the Hornets have qualified for the NBA’s Eastern Conference play-in round for the postseason. That happened when the Chicago Bulls lost to the Brooklyn Nets on Tuesday night.
“No room for celebration,” Hornets coach James Borrego said. “We’ve got a lot of work to do. We’ve got to get better.”
Yet for the Hornets (33-36), there should be special feelings this time of the season.
“You can feel it,” Borrego said. “It’s a little bit of anxiety, excitement — all put into one. And they should feel that way. This is why you play the game. This is why you do it.”
Now that a postseason bid as been secured, it’s important for Charlotte to get on track with three games remaining.
“It beats going home. It beats being out of the playoff run right now,” Borrego said. “I love it for them. I love it for our organization. They should be excited. They should be thrilled right now to compete in these games.”
The Clippers (46-23) began a season-ending stretch of four straight road games by ripping the Toronto Raptors 115-96 on Tuesday night for their third victory in the last four games.
Kawhi Leonard has led the Clippers in scoring in back-to-back games for the first time since March 30 and April 1. He averages a team-best 25 points per game.
Still, the Clippers will put an emphasis on better ball handling. They had 18 turnovers despite topping the short-handed Raptors.
“At times we can look real nasty, and that’s what we’ve got to clean up,” Leonard said. “We can’t just keep taking about it. We have to start doing it.”
The Clippers had guard Patrick Beverley in a starting role for the first time in more than a month.
The matchup with Los Angeles will mark the home finale for the Hornets, who will conclude a season-long, five-game homestand.
Charlotte didn’t do the Clippers any favors by losing 117-112 on Tuesday night to the Denver Nuggets, who are trying to catch the Clippers in the Western Conference pecking order. Los Angeles holds the third-place spot, just one game in front of Denver.
Hornets guard Devonte’ Graham was basically a game-time decision and he turned in a 31-point performance after missing the previous four games because of a knee ailment.
“I feel better than I have been feeling, so that’s a positive,” Graham said. “Everybody at this time is battling something so you have to push through that this time of the year.”
The return of Graham was something the Hornets needed in the worst way.
“Stability, scoring, shooting, play-making, just a steady, calm presence on the floor,” Borrego said of Graham’s impact. “We need all of that. … We’re more efficient, smarter (with Graham on the court).”
The Clippers routed Charlotte by 125-98 on March 20 at home. In that game, rookie guard LaMelo Ball of the Hornets suffered a broken wrist that kept him out of games until May 1.
–Field Level Media