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'It's the biggest game of the year'

Saturday's loss to New York means Charlotte Hornets must beat Washington on Sunday to claim the eighth seed

Still perplexed by how it unfolded at the end of regulation, Devonte' Graham was bothered he didn't slow himself down quite enough as he raised up for an uncontested jumper.

"Yeah, good play," Graham said. "I was wide open and he tripped up. I really rushed it I should have took my time. Obviously you want to hit the shot to win the game, but it didn’t work out like that."

Graham's shot clanked off the backboard and didn't even draw rim, an unusual and surprising sight since he had it going to the tune of 25 points. So instead, after their offense remained cold in overtime, the Charlotte Hornets were left with a stinging 118-109 defeat to New York in a game that could've secured the eighth seed prior to Sunday's 1 p.m. regular-season finale in Washington.

Here’s the gist of what’s ahead now for the Hornets: if they beat the Wizards, they clinch the eighth seed and will take on Boston at TD Garden on Tuesday. If they win that game, they get the seventh seed and advance to play the No. 2 seed. Should they lose to the Celtics, on Thursday they would host the winner of the game between the ninth and 10th seeds, which is where the Hornets would find themselves if they lost to Washington. The winner of that game claims the eighth seed to play top-seeded Philadelphia.

Got that?

"The mentality is the same," coach James Borrego said. "Let’s keep the eighth seed and let’s go win a game tomorrow and build some momentum into the playoff game. If our guys battle like they did tonight (in the) second half, we’ll have good chance tomorrow night. Yeah, the mentality is the same. Same opportunity as tonight. If we win this tonight, we are probably the eighth seed. If we win tomorrow we are the eighth seed. So the mentality is the same going into tomorrow night’s game."

That's certainly what Miles Bridges -- who's return was first reported by SI.com's All Hornets -- is doing.

"It’s the biggest game of the year," said Bridges, who looked good while pouring in a team-high 30 points off the bench after missing the previous six games. "The only thing on our mind is winning and nothing else."

The Hornets appear to be growing weary of the educational experiences. Getting that under their belt is good and all, but transforming it into success is their next crucial step.

"Being in these pressure moments, trying to figure out ways to win," Graham said. "We’ve got to do a better job of coming out and playing like we are down 20 before we are actually down 20 and decide to play. So that would help us out a lot. We keep trying to fight back and win games, but against these good teams, playoff teams it’s a lot harder. We are making it harder on ourselves than it should be."

It's translated into four consecutive losses and defeats in eight of their past 11 games, which doesn't exactly have them streaking leading into the play-in tournament. They have to correct some issues in order to have a legitimate chance to make some noise in the postseason.

"I feel like we are a little stagnant in clutch situations," Bridges said. "We’ve been doing well in clutch situations all year, so it’s kind of foreign to us to be losing the close games. But hey, we’ve got one more game and that’s the good thing about the NBA. You’ve got another game in less than 24 hours. So we’ve got to get ready for that one."

And those relatively high stakes.

"Gotta win it," Graham said. "That's it. Simple."

Quotable: "It was just a rotation thing. We took him out. That group was rolling and I stuck with them. That’s really all it came down to." -- James Borrego on why LaMelo Ball played just 4:13 in the second half

Noteworthy: Miles Bridges was a force in the third quarter, scoring 16 of his points. He nailed all but one of his eight attempts, misfiring on one of his three 3-pointers.