Hungry Hornets face critical game against Cavs
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The Charlotte Hornets are still alive for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
Charlotte (38-42) moved into a tie for ninth place in the East by holding off Detroit 104-91 on Sunday night for its third consecutive victory amid a playoff-like atmosphere. It's pretty much another must-win game when Charlotte plays at the Cleveland Cavaliers (19-62) on Tuesday night.
The Hornets let Detroit trim a 23-point first-half lead to one with 8:01 left in the game but pulled away for the win and climbed within one game of the eighth-place Pistons (39-41).
"We just stuck with it," head coach James Borrego said on Fox Sports Southeast. "The resiliency was there. We just keep pounding. We're not dying. We just keep pounding away. Really proud of (our) effort, our intensity, our focus tonight. That's a big-time win."
Here is what needs to happen for Charlotte to be the eighth seed in the East and meet top-seeded Milwaukee in the first round:
--Wins over Cleveland and against visiting Orlando on Wednesday night, combined with at least one Pistons loss. Charlotte swept the four-game series against Detroit and thereby owns the head-to-head tiebreaker.
--Split against the Cavs and Magic while the Pistons lose twice and the Miami Heat (38-42) lose one more game. Although the Hornets and Heat have the same record and the teams split four games, Charlotte's superior division record gives it the head-to-head tiebreaker.
Charlotte's last playoff appearance was in 2016, and the Hornets haven't advanced past the first round since 2002.
"We've played well recently and it's another big step in the right direction, not only for our group this year but just as an organization," Borrego said. "Just making strides every single day, every single game."
Charlotte All-Star guard Kemba Walker continues to lead the way, with 31 points, seven assists and eight rebounds on Sunday. He also became the ninth different player in NBA history to make 250 3-pointers in a season.
Cleveland is on a nine-game losing streak heading into its season finale. Not unexpectedly, it has been a difficult season with LeBron James leaving for the Los Angeles Lakers in free agency and center Kevin Love being healthy enough to appear in only 22 games.
He played 12 minutes in Sunday's home loss to the San Antonio Spurs, but Cavaliers coach Larry Drew said afterward it was unknown if Love would play in the finale. That could also be Drew's final game with the club; he said before Sunday's game there had yet to be any discussion about his future with the team.
One positive for the Cavs has been the play of 20-year-old rookie point guard Collin Sexton, who is averaging 16.7 points per game and shooting 40.8 percent from 3-point range.
"A decision was made early that we really wanted our young guys to grow and mature by being out on the floor," Drew said. "Collin, you see the growth."
Other young players Cavs who developed this season were Cedi Osman and Ante Zizic.
"Now you're got some guys that will come back next year that have a year of playing consistent minutes," Drew said. "And you have guys who now understand or know what it feels like to play."
--Field Level Media
Updated April 8, 2019