Kemba Walker scored 23 points and the Charlotte Hornets pulled away in the fourth quarter to keep their late-season playoff push going with a 124-97 win Tuesday night over the Cleveland Cavaliers, whose painful first season rebuilding without LeBron James is finally over.
The Hornets (39-42) had to win to have any chance of beating out Detroit and Miami for the No. 8 spot in the Eastern Conference. Charlotte did its part and must now beat Orlando at home on Wednesday and hope the Pistons (39-42) lose in New York to clinch its first playoff berth in three years.
Detroit rallied to beat Memphis 100-93, setting up a dramatic final day of the season.
Jeremy Lamb added 23 points and Miles Bridges and Dwayne Bacon scored 18 apiece as the Hornets won their fourth straight.
The Cavs dropped their 10th in a row to finish 19-63, the fourth-worst record in franchise history and just the fifth time they’ve failed to win at least 20.
Cleveland again played without star forward Kevin Love, whose season was sabotaged early by a toe injury that required surgery and altered everything for the Cavs. Love’s situation made things even tougher on the Cavs, who initially believed they could compete while recovering from the loss of James as a free agent for the second time.
Now the focus turns to coach Larry Drew’s future and next month’s NBA draft lottery.
Rookie Collin Sexton scored 18 points and had a season-high 10 assists for the Cavs. He also joined Larry Bird (1979-80) and Stephen Curry (2009-10) as the only rookies in league history to average at least 16 points while making over 40% of their 3-pointers and 80% of their free throws.
If the Hornets get back to the postseason for the first time in three years, Walker will be the reason.
The three-time All-Star, who is scheduled to become a free agent on July 1, is averaging 34.4 points in his last five games.
Hornets: F Michael Kidd-Gilchrist was not with the team for the second straight game because of personal reasons. … Walker enters Wednesday’s game — perhaps the final one of his career with Charlotte — as the franchise leader in points and made 3-pointers, field goals and free throws. He’s second in assists behind Muggsy Bogues and third in games played behind Dell Curry and Bogues.
Cavaliers: Love played 13 minutes on Sunday as a salute to close friend Channing Frye, who is retiring after 13 seasons. Love was limited to just 22 games this season because of the toe and other injuries. He’ll consider playing this summer for Team USA. … Frye was given a rousing ovation when he checked in and a video tribute from former teammates was shown. Dwyane Wade said, “I thought you already retired.” Frye scored 10 in the fourth quarter. … Sexton scored in double figures in his final 23 games. He’s the first Cavs rookie to play all 82 games since Andre Miller in 1999-2000. … G Matthew Dellavedova missed the final 17 games with a concussion sustained on March 6 at Brooklyn.
Hornets: Lost to the Magic, Wednesday’s opponent, by 38 on Feb. 14.
Cavaliers: Eagerly await the NBA draft lottery on May 12.