Hornets need win over Magic to have playoff shot
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The Orlando Magic are going to the playoffs. The Charlotte Hornets still might be.
The Hornets have won four consecutive games -- and eight of 11 -- to reach Wednesday's season finale against the visiting Magic. Charlotte needs one more victory to have a chance of keep playing this season.
Charlotte (39-42) took care of its business Tuesday night with a 124-97 victory at Cleveland, staying in the ninth position in the Eastern Conference because eighth-place Detroit rallied to beat the Memphis Grizzlies 100-93.
Detroit (40-41) has a one-game lead on Charlotte for the final playoff spot, but the Hornets swept the four-game season series and hold the head-to-head tiebreaker.
So, it's simple: Charlotte needs a win and a Detroit loss.
A potential problem for Charlotte: The Pistons are playing Wednesday night at the New York Knicks, the last-place team in the Eastern Conference. But the Hornets can't control that.
"I thought we were disciplined from the start," Charlotte coach James Borrego said on Fox Sports Southeast after Tuesday's win. "I thought we were focused, came out with great energy, locked into the game plan. ...
"We needed this one, and I think our guys went out and took it."
Orlando has ended a six-season postseason drought, while the Hornets' last playoff appearance was in 2016.
Both teams put on a late-season surge to get to where they are, with the Magic doing it over a longer period of time. Orlando is 21-9 since Jan. 31, when it was 11 games under .500, but it clawed back to 41-40 entering Wednesday's season finale, mostly thanks to its excellent defense.
In the past 30 games, Orlando is holding opponents to 44.3 percent shooting, 31.7 percent from 3-point range and giving up an average of just 19.4 free throw attempts.
Coach Steve Clifford -- who was fired by the Hornets last April after five seasons as the head coach -- said the Magic had a good practice Tuesday after clinching a playoff spot Sunday.
"That's what I was anxious to see," Clifford said.
"The biggest thing now is to have the same approach that we've had here for really all, but especially these last 30 games. Guys came in today and they were focused. ... There was a lot of energy and they were very good."
Orlando won't have starting forward Jonathan Isaac (9.6 points, 5.5 rebounds) Wednesday after he was hit in the jaw Sunday and later placed in the NBA concussion protocol. Wes Iwundu will start in his place.
"Hopefully, things will work out so that he'll be back by the weekend," Clifford said of Isaac, a second-year pro.
Orlando has gone almost exclusively with a lineup of point guard D.J. Augustin, guard Evan Fournier, Isaac, forward Aaron Gordon and All-Star center Nikola Vucevic this season. The rest of the team has made a combined 24 starts.
The Magic can be the sixth, seventh or eighth seed. They are tied with Brooklyn (41-40) for sixth, but the Nets hold the tiebreaker. Brooklyn hosts the Miami Heat on Wednesday.
The Hornets can only be the eighth seed.
Clifford shrugged off questions Tuesday about resting players or altering the rotation in the final game before the playoffs.
"We're going to try to win. That's it," he said.
Charlotte is 2-1 against Orlando this season. If the Hornets fail to make the playoffs, all the talk around the team quickly will shift to the future of All-Star guard Kemba Walker, who will be a free agent.
--Field Level Media
Updated April 10, 2019