NBA: New Orleans Hornets' Playoff Window Closing Quickly

Jose AlvarezContributor IMarch 2, 2011

NEW ORLEANS, LA - DECEMBER 15:  A cheerleader holds up a sign thanking the fans for their attendance after the game between the Sacramento Kings and the New Orleans Hornets  at the New Orleans Arena on December 15, 2010 in New Orleans, Louisiana.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
Chris Graythen/Getty Images

Forget about the New Orleans Hornets' front office woes, which included an NBA takeover last December and possible whispers of relocation or contraction.

On the court, their window of opportunity—that is, the playoffs—is closing very quickly.

With close losses to the Houston Rockets, their division rivals, and the Toronto Raptors, an Eastern Conference lottery team, the Hornets have looked more vulnerable than ever.

The same team that went 8-0 to start off the season has sputtered to a mere 4-8 in February and are only a game ahead of the eighth seeded Memphis Grizzlies.

Their home and away schedules are split almost evenly, with 11 games at home and nine on the road. They have a number of difficult tests remaining this season, both at home and on the road.

Some of those road games include tougher opponents such as the Chicago Bulls and the Los Angeles Lakers, while having to take on Boston and Denver at home;tThey also have to play the Dallas Mavericks twice.

There is also the problem of their Western Conference rivals scrambling to get into the last few playoff spots: the Grizzlies (three times), Suns (three times), Jazz (twice) and the Blazers.

Thankfully, the Utah Jazz have a myriad of problems of their own: They are currently 1-6 under interim head coach Tyrone Corbin, they must now face life without Derron Williams and may drop out of the playoff picture quickly.

However, the Suns have been on fire, posting a 9-3 record in February and are threatening to break into the top eight; the Grizzlies were equally as hot in February, going on an 8-4 run.

Rookie head coach Monty Williams has done a good job with his Hornets team, keeping them in the playoff hunt for this long, but an injury to center Emeka Okafor and dropping winnable games to lottery-bound teams have damaged their chances at making a deep playoff run or even a playoff run at all.

The team is solid defensively (92.6 points per game allowed, third overall in the NBA), but their offensive firepower is lacking (94.6 points per game, 27th overall).

Let's not forget about Chris Paul, arguably the best point guard in the NBA. He is one of the main reasons the Hornets are still in the playoff picture, albeit barely.

This is a crucial time where he needs to prove that he is a real team leader and open their window of opportunity again.