The last week of NBA action has seen the Charlotte Hornets continue to do some damage in the NBA. Currently undefeated in their last seven, Charlotte – and not San Antonio or Golden State – currently have the longest active winning streak. Kemba Walker has been a big part of that, however in watching all of their recent games the Hornets remain a team with much to improve on.
Charlotte games aren’t televised in my part of the world, however, I have the NBA’s League Pass, and I made a point to watch all of their games in the last week. I noted a very striking pattern with this team in regard to their recent wins. Charlotte generally jump out to a big lead, laugh it up on the bench as though an early lead counts for everything, and then see the lead winnowed down to a few possessions or points. When the going gets unnecessarily tough, it’s the Kemba Walker Show, and he’s always been good for a three or a driving basket in the tense moments.
The Hornets are now just a 1/2 game back of Miami in the Southeast Division with the Atlanta Hawks in the thick of things too. I do think that it’s Charlotte that will emerge as the divisional champion this season and I see them winning a first-round playoff series. However, their immaturity and their lack of a potent second star is unlikely to see them make the conference finals.
Another team that seems to have some work to do to make the conference finals is Cleveland. Last week the Cavs lost a shocker to a depleted Memphis club, a loss that provoked criticism from Lebron James.
“I can sit up here and say that we’re a team that’s ready to start the playoffs tomorrow, but we’re not,” James claimed after the Memphis loss.
Since that comment, the Cavaliers have won three straight, so perhaps it served as a much-needed wake-up call. However, with the top team in the east a bit of a question mark right now you have to wonder if the Eastern Conference playoffs will be wide open this season. If so Toronto, Boston, and Charlotte certainly can’t be counted out as potential NBA finalists.
The complexion of the Western Conference, in contrast, looks anything but wide open. The OKC Thunder, long considered the third wheel in the west, have been dropping a fair number of games recently. They’ve still got a lock on the Northwest Division, but they’ve only won four of their last ten games and are starting to look like an after thought in their conference. The showdown in the West appears to be all about a potential and very likely Conference final between the San Antonio Spurs and the Golden State Warriors.
In the current standings, it remains the Warriors that are ahead by a bit in a race that carries much importance. After all, both Golden State and San Antonio remain undefeated at home on the year. Significantly, the team that has home-court advantage in a potential Spurs/Warriors conference final would have the luxury of not having to win in the other team’s building to advance to the NBA Finals. Right now, it looks like the Warriors will have that edge, but there’s an important game coming up that might inject some life into San Antonio’s chances.
Many games coming up will carry playoff implications as teams only have about sixteen games remaining in their schedules. The ‘main event’ in the next week of games is a Saturday nighter next weekend between Golden State and San Antonio. The Spurs will host, and that will give them a good chance to gain a game on the Warriors in the standings (ABC, 8:30 pm ET). Another interesting game goes on Friday night as the Toronto Raptors host the Boston Celtics, a match-up that could preview a second-round playoff series this season (SportsNet, 7:30 pm ET).