Hornets officially eliminated from playoffs contention

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Two years ago, the New Orleans Hornets were entering the playoffs as a young, up and coming team. Led by Chris Paul, the Hornets featured a young, dynamic lineup, and surprised everyone by not only advancing to the second round, but pushing the Spurs to the brink of elimination in a seven game series, losing at home when the buckets wouldn’t drop. Even after losing to the Spurs, the Hornets looked like the team of the future.

Two years later, the Hornets have been eliminated from playoff contention before March is finished. Last night’s loss to the Blazers finished the Hornets’ postseason intentions, though Jeff Bower says they still have plenty to play for.

The loss of Chris Paul for two months was clearly devastating to the Hornets, but considering the impact Darren Collison had in his absence (and continues to have), and the start to their season that led to the firing of Byron Scott, there’s clearly a bigger problem. The Hornets are saddled with aging wings with massive contracts in Peja Stojakovic, Mo Peterson, and James Posey. In a league that continues to get younger and more athletic, even when the older corps can contribute, there’s a downside on the defensive end.

Jeff Bower deserves some credit for pulling this team out of its doldrums, and for drafting the dynamic rookies Collison and Marcus Thornton. At the same time, Bower was the one that established the aging group. And while it’s pretty easy to argue Emeka Okafor was an improvement over Tyson Chandler who can’t stay on the floor due to injuries, the improvement wasn’t a slam dunk enough to make a significant impact.

The Hornets could look at this season as a success given that it’s possible they would have made the playoffs if Paul had been healthy. But they set the bar early with a run to the semifinals. Is making the playoffs really the only goal? Keep an eye on the Hornets this summer.

Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook go head-to-head, literally (video)

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This sure didn’t look like just another game for Kevin Durant – and not only because the Thunder beat the Warriors for the first time since he left.

The 108-91 Oklahoma City victory didn’t look like just another game for Russell Westbrook (34 points, 10 rebounds, nine assists and four steals), either.

Harrison Barnes banks in game-winning, buzzer-beating 3-pointer (video)

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With the shot clock off in the fourth quarter and the game tied, Grizzlies big JaMychal Green put back Tyreke Evans‘ miss with a clutch flush. There’s a very fine line between ensuring the last shot and leaving time for an offensive rebound, and Memphis threated it almost perfectly.

Emphasis on “almost.”

The Grizzlies left the Mavericks 0.5 seconds, which Harrison Barnes used to bank in a 3-pointer – off a pinpoint bounce pass by Dennis Smith Jr. – to give Dallas a 95-94 win.

Heat snap Celtics’ 16-game winning streak

AP Photo/Lynne Sladky
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The Celtics didn’t have another comeback in them.

After overcoming a 13-point fourth-quarter deficit against the Mavericks on Monday to extend its winning streak to 16 games, Boston lost to the Heat tonight, 104-98. The streak ends as the NBA’s longest since the Hawks won 19 straight during the 2014-15 season.

The Celtics trailed Miami by 16 in the fourth quarter then cut the deficit to only one with three minutes left. But Dion Waiters hit back-to-back 3-pointers, helping the Heat pull away.

Goran Dragic (27 points) and Waiters (26 points) led Miami, which needed a reason to feel good after losing three of four to fall to 7-9.

The Celtics, on the other hand, still have a four-game cushion over the rest of the Eastern Conference. This might help them regain focus.

Serge Ibaka gets dunked on by Enes Kanter, hit in face by ball (video)

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Is Enes Kanter mad Serge Ibaka rifted with his family?

(No, not this family. That family.)