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The Charlotte Hornets are focused on taking another positive step to keep alive their remote playoff hopes when they host the New York Knicks on Monday night in Charlotte, N.C.
The Hornets (33-41) will take the court in 10th place in the Eastern Conference, but they could move up a notch with a win and a loss by Detroit (33-40) to the Los Angeles Lakers.
Catching Milwaukee (39-34) or Miami (39-35) will be more difficult, especially with just eight games remaining.
A Hornets win over the Knicks would move them within five of the Heat.
To add to the Hornets’ improbable odds, they were swept in the season series by the Heat, meaning Miami would get the playoff spot in the case of a tie.
The Hornets might never reach the No. 8 spot, but they’re sure making an impressive run at it. They’ve won their last three games, averaging 117.7 points in those games.
Dwight Howard and Kemba Walker have been sensational in the run.
Howard had a 32-point, 30-rebound double-double in Wednesday’s 111-105 win at Brooklyn, then 18 points and 23 rebounds in Saturday’s 102-98 win at Dallas.
In between, he was suspended due to accruement of technical fouls for Friday’s home game against Memphis, and had a front-row seat for Walker’s 46-point explosion in a 140-79 shellacking of the Grizzlies.
I was just trying to get as many rebounds as I can,” Howard explained of his recent priorities. Dominate the paint, set some screens for Kemba (Walker) and the rest of the guys to open up everything else in the paint.”
The home team has won all three previous meetings between the Knicks and Hornets. Tim Hardaway Jr. had 25 points when New York won 124-101 at home over Charlotte earlier this month.
The Knicks have been a different team on the road, although they were able to pull out a 101-97 win at Washington on Sunday.
New York will take the floor Monday having lost five of its last six road outings as it attempts to fight through the second night of a late-season back-to-back.
The Knicks (27-47), already eliminated from playoff contention, went a youthful route when they gave rookie Frank Ntilikina just his fourth start of the season Sunday against the Wizards.
It didn’t go particularly well for the 19-year-old, who contributed just two points and one assist to the win in 21 minutes. But it was a start that Knicks coach Jeff Hornacek thought was well deserved after 15- and 13-point outings off the bench in recent games.
The season-best 15 points came in the win earlier this month against the Hornets.
The Belgium native has made his biggest impact this season on the defensive end. He helped the Knicks limit Walker to 10 points in the last meeting.
I know I can give a lot on the defensive end,” he noted recently. If you say I have good (defensive) stats, I’m happy to try to get better at that.”113-93 on Oct. 31 in Los Angeles.