CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Forget the seven-game winning streak and the late season surge. To understand how far the Hornets have come this season, look at just how low they actually were three months ago.
"We were dangerously close to going south," said guard David Wesley, who police said was racing teammate Bobby Phills when the Charlotte captain was killed Jan. 12 in a car accident. "It was a tough season and we had a lot of problems and it would have been easy to say `Oh well, we're hurting so let's just fold it up."'
Thanks mainly to coach Paul Silas, they didn't. So the Hornets find themselves facing the Philadelphia 76ers when the first round of the NBA playoffs start Saturday.
It's a bittersweet turnaround for the Hornets, who were considered a preseason contender for the Eastern Conference title, but suffered a series of tragedies and off-court distractions that could have cost them any spot in the playoffs.
Charlotte also lost guard Eldridge Recasner for most of the season when he was injured in a car accident. Recasner was a passenger in a car driven by teammate Derrick Coleman at the time of the accident. Coleman was later charged with drunken driving but was acquitted
Owner George Shinn went through an ugly two-week civil trial on a sexual assault charge. A jury ruled in his favor.
Anthony Mason was arrested and charged with assault for fighting outside of a New York bar. That case is still pending.
Wesley was charged in connection with the accident that killed Phills. He has a May 15 court date on misdemeanor charges of speed competition and reckless driving.
All of it culminated into a long losing stretch that put Charlotte in seventh position in the East on March 20 and fighting to keep make the playoffs. One month later they've won 14 of 16 to surge into fourth place in the standings.
"Whatever doesn't kill you only makes you stronger," Mason said. "We are stronger now that we are focusing on basketball and able to put the adversity behind us."
The Hornets credit coach Silas. With a laid-back approach that gives each player some space, Silas allowed them to heal.
"He was able to get 12 guys to play basketball when they didn't really feel like playing basketball," said Wesley, who admitted considering taking the rest of the season off after Phills was killed.
"He backed off when he had to and he stepped up when he needed to," Wesley said. "It was a tough job because there were a lot of emotions to deal with."
Guard Eddie Jones said Silas earned the team's respect by dealing with all of the problems along with the players.
"To a lot of coaches in this league, it's just a job," Jones said. "But not for him, he never lost the fact that we were human and we were hurting. And he told us he was hurting with us and we weren't alone. You don't get that from many people let alone coaches."
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