Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Will the real New Orleans Hornets please stand up?

Posted By on Tue, Mar 17, 2009 at 3:30 AM

click to enlarge chris paul cannot escape mutombo

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Photograph by Jonathan Bachman

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Stop me if you've heard this one before: the Hornets are a baffling basketball team. They can pull off seven-game win streaks and then lose to the Chicago Bulls. They can beat the Rockets by nine (like they did back in December) or lose to them by 11 (like they did tonight). The Hornets bench can be electrifying or miserable and their defense can be tenacious or atrocious. The only constant seems to be that no one knows what this team will do. So is Byron Scott puzzled after his team's 95–84 loss tonight?

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"All the time," he said. "I love the fact the fact that we're loose, but have I figured our guys out? No, not really. Not yet."

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Scott was referencing a question he was asked before tonight's game about whether the mood in the Hornets locker room is different now than it was last year. Scott said no, the mood is the same. His players are as loose as they've ever been. The only difference between this season and last season is that last season the Hornets knew they were one of the top two teams in the Western Conference. This year? It's hard to tell if this team is even playoff ready.

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All season long, Scott has preached the same mantra to his players: work hard, play good defense and protect the paint. When the Hornets win, it's because they executed on both ends of the floor. When they lose, it's because they didn't. It's as simple and as complicated as that.

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"We have to win," Chris Paul said about the difference between his team's play during the seven-game win streak and their last two losses.

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Here's another simple fact: before Rasual Butler hit that throw-away three at the end of the game, only Chris Paul and David West had scored in double figures for the Hornets. This despite the Hornets sporting an 11-point lead at one point in the game. Though the game was close throughout (there were 16 lead changes and 15 ties) it was the Rockets that managed to pull away through sheer aggressiveness.

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"They did a good job of getting into the paint and to the free throw line," Tyson Chandler said. "That pretty much carried them throughout the game with the points in the paint and the free throws that they made."

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Ah yes, points in the paint. The Hornets let up 44 points in the paint while scoring 36. It doesn't take a math genius to realize that was the difference in this game. It could be because Chandler's ankle isn't fully healed ("It was dragging me out there," he said) or that this team just isn't as tough as some of their opponents. Maybe it's that they're just lazy. Who knows. Really, what's wrong with the Hornets is anybody's guess.

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