Charlotte Hornets playing spoiler down the stretch of the NBA season:PJ Washington with 43 points last night vs. OKC Thunder

Charlotte Hornets playing spoiler down the stretch
from Sean Keane, with

The Charlotte Hornets have been out of the playoff race for months. But they can still crush other teams’ playoff dreams.

On March 18, the Hornets were officially eliminated from the playoffs. Since then they’ve gone 4-1, with two wins against the Dallas Mavericks, one against the Indiana Pacers and Tuesday night’s win over the Oklahoma City Thunder. All of those playoff aspirants saw their chances take a big hit after playing the league’s fourth-worst team.

It’s a testament to the coaching of Steve Clifford that his team is still playing hard down the stretch of a lost season. But it’s also a quirk of the lottery system. The Hornets are too good to fall into one of the bottom-three lottery positions, and too bad to improve from fourth-worst. They’re six games ahead of the third-worst Spurs, and six-and-a-half games ahead of the fifth-worst Orlando Magic.

So why not win? Tuesday night, the Hornets scored 44 points in the 4th quarter, behind P.J. Washington’s career-high 43 points. 22 of them came in the final quarter, fully half of his team’s points.

Washington is making a push ahead of his restricted free agency this summer, averaging 24 points in the last five games. The rest of the team is also effectively auditioning to be part of the Hornets’ future.

Charlotte won Tuesday night with all their veterans sitting, and without a single player over the age of 25. 20-year-old J.T. Thor logged a career high in points (14) and minutes (36) Tuesday, while 22-year-old Kai Jones had career highs in points (12) and rebounds (14).

Those players may well be part of the next competitive Hornets team, especially with LaMelo Ball able to rest his balky ankle for six months. Until then, Charlotte remains surprisingly competitive right now. There’s four games against playoff teams left on the schedule, which means four more chances for the plucky Hornets to crush dreams.