It had all the makings of feel-good night, only to fall apart in the closing moments.
And when they look back on things, it's a safe bet the Charlotte Hornets will be pointing to Sunday's 112-110 loss to New Orleans as a missed opportunity to solidify their postseason status.
Wasting Terry Rozier's career-high 43-point effort and blowing a 14-point lead in the second half against a team missing some of its key players as well is difficult to stomach and the ramifications may be significant. Their grip on the eighth spot -- down to just one game over surging ninth-place Washington -- is tenuous at best.
"This is one we definitely needed," Cody Zeller said. "The next two opponents we have here are tough and then the last two on the road. Anything can happen in one game. We could come out and play well in a couple nights and get a win here at home."
That's their hope, but the way they've been playing it's far from a given. Each of their final four opponents are in the thick of the playoff seeding hunt. Denver can still climb up from fourth place to third in the Western Conference. The team the Nuggets are chasing --- the LA Clippers -- visit Charlotte on Thursday.
Wrapping up their season on the road against New York and Washington is not exactly an easy proposition. So their final seed is up the air and they are well aware of the differences in what they will face depending on where they finish.
"As players, if you are in the seven or eight seed, you hate the play-in because you worked 72 games to get to that point," Zeller said. "If you are the nine or 10 seed, you love it because you still have a chance. Anything can happen in a one game play-in. One guy can get hot, one guy can twist an ankle, anything can happen. It’ll be fun. It sounds like we’ll be in the play-in, just a matter of what seed we are. Every game is important from here on out.”
Rozier sees it the same way.
“It definitely matters," Rozier said. "If we are going to be in the play-in, we have to be prepared to play our best. These four games we have left, we have to treat it as though we are in the play-in and take it serious so we can keep building. These next four games are going to be important to us. It’s not going to be easy, but we have to use it to prepare us for what we have going after the regular season."
Rozier and Zeller are actually two of the few Hornets with postseason experience. Zeller said he's been in the ear of those who haven't been yet, explaining the serious nature of what they're chasing.
"I just keep telling them this is the time we have to start playing every game like it’s the play-in," Zeller said. "Every game is important, it could be one possession, one missed coverage here or there that could make the difference in every game. But it’s fun. That’s what you play all year for, is to be in games like this.”
Quotable: -- "I think that is the biggest thing is playing closer to the highest level as possible for 48 minutes and that’s not easy to do in this league, especially for a young group. Can you bring the same effort for 48 minutes? That’s the biggest thing. It’s not an x’s and o’s thing. It’s an effort, focus, attention to detail thing. It has nothing to do with the x’s and o’s. It’s just the mentality of playing the right way for 48 minutes. Playing with the right effort for 48 minutes. Playing with the right focus for 48 minutes. That’s the holy grail right there. So, the teams that do that more consistently are the teams that typically win in this league.” -- James Borrego on what the Hornets must do to gain consistency
Statworthy: Terry Rozier became just the fourth player in franchise history to post three or more games of at least 40 points. The others? Glen Rice, Kelly Tripucka and Kemba Walker.
Up next: vs. Denver, 7 p.m. Tuesday