CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — The Charlotte Hornets finished strong.
Now they’re hoping to carry that momentum into the play-in tournament.
The Hornets beat the Washington Wizards 124-108 on Sunday behind 25 points from Terry Rozier and 24 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists from LaMelo Ball, but were unable to improve their seed heading into the Eastern Conference play-in tournament.
The Hornets will be the 10th seed after finishing 43-39. Charlotte’s 43 wins are the most by a 10th place team in the NBA since the Seattle SuperSonics won 44 games in 2000-01.
“Most years we would be the seven or eight seed,” Hornets coach James Borrego said. “The East got better and we got better. We have a shot to keep moving forward. We have put ourselves in position to continue our season and have a meaningful game on the road.”
Charlotte will face the ninth-seeded Atlanta Hawks on Wednesday night. The winner of that game plays the loser of the Cleveland-Brooklyn game for an opportunity to advance to the playoffs.
The Hornets stumbled into the play-in tournament last year, losing their final five regular-season games before getting blown out 144-117 by Indiana in the 9 vs. 10 play-in game.
This year, they believe they’re in a different place mentally and physically.
Charlotte won 11 of 16 games to close the season, igniting confidence that they can win two straight road games and qualify for the playoffs for the first time since 2015-16.
“It’s a whole different vibe this year, I feel like,” Ball said.
Rozier said the Hornets are “playing possibly our best basketball” of the season.
“We feel like we can definitely win and sneak into the playoffs,” Rozier said. “I know once we get in there everybody is going to be itching and they are going to love where we’re at — because this is where the real fun is.”
Charlotte entered Sunday with a chance to move up to high as the seventh seed had Brooklyn, Cleveland and Atlanta all lost on Sunday. However, all three teams closed the regular season with victories, rending the outcome of Charlotte’s game meaningless.
The Hornets got 14 points third quarter points from Isaiah Thomas and 18 fourth quarter points from Rozier to beat the Wizards.
Washington had cut Charlotte’s lead to 93-90 in the fourth quarter before Rozier got hot, scoring 15 points as part of a 20-9 run to break the game open.
Rui Hachimura had 21 points and Corey Kispert added 20 points for the Wizards (35-47), who failed to make the postseason for the third time in the last four seasons.
“It’s easy to miss the mark when you’re out of the playoffs and guys just kind of pack it in and get through it, but I thought we still tried to get something out of it and that’s extremely important for all of our guys, but in particular our young core,” Wizards coach Wes Unseld Jr. said.
Unseld said he’s already begun the process of conducting exit interviews with players before Sunday.
“It’s kind of a chance to give your opinion on things that we didn’t have a chance to touch on during the season,” Kispert said. “Things move so fast in the NBA. It gives guys a chance to give coach feedback and he really wants to hear it.”
The Hornets split the season series with the Hawks, with each team winning once on the other team’s floor.
To advance, the Hornets will need to contain Trae Young.
They did a good job of that in the last meeting, holding Young to a season-low nine points in a 116-106 victory on March 16.
“We can’t let him breath,” Rozier said. “We can’t give him no light. We can’t give him no confidence. He’s a pretty confident player but we just have to make it tough for him — and we have done that in the past a little bit.”
Wizards: Allowed the Hornets to shoot 53.9% from the field.
Hornets: Gordon Hayward’s season is likely over. The Hornets forward will be out indefinitely with continued discomfort in his left foot, the team announced. Hayward’s foot will be placed in a cast to immobilize his foot and he will be re-evaluated in approximately two weeks. … Rozier and Ball combined to shoot 11 of 16 from 3-point range.
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