The Hornets drew their largest crowd of the season tonight against the Los Angeles Lakers. But unlike the only other time New Orleans had 18,000 people — including L'il Wayne — at the Hive (against the Miami Heat in October) the Hornets put up an absolute stinker.
Final score: 103-88 and it was never really that close. Even when the Hornets were done by just three after the first quarter, it was on the back of Chris Paul who scored 11 points on 5-of-6 shooting (the rest of the team went 5-of-16).
Immediately after the game, head coach Monty Williams said that the crowd may have had an impact on his players, but not the one he wanted. With so many people in the stands to see the Hornets take on the defending NBA champions, the Hornets buckled under the spotlight.
"We have young guys that have never done this before," Williams said. "This was a learning experience."
No the most inspiring quote. Not to mention squandering the support of capacity crowds is what gives weight to statements claiming the Hornets can't survive in New Orleans (however idiotic the statements actually are).
For Williams and his players, it's undeniable that this teaches us that the Hornets are not on the same level as the Lakers. New Orleans had to work twice as hard as L.A. for half the results. The Lakers, with their long list of bigs, dominated the boards (44-24), held the edge in points in the paint (46-30) and overall made life a living hell for a smaller, less talented Hornets team.
Really, though, if you want to look at the difference between the Hornets and Lakers it comes down to the bench. Whereas the Hornets have to rely on DJ Mbenga, Jason Smith and Quincy Pondexter (combined 14 points on the night) to play valuable minutes, the Lakers had Lamar Odom scoring a career-high 24 points as a substitute.
For the Hornets to win consistently, and especially if they want to beat some of the best teams in the league, they have to find players who can consistently fill the shoes of someone like David West when he has an off night (as he did, scoring just six points). It would also help if Trevor Ariza (four points and four turnovers) would start playing like the man the New Orleans traded for and not a James Posey clone.
Currently, the Hornets are 4-7 against teams ahead of them in the Western Conference standings. That record is even more depressing when you consider their record against sub .500 teams is just 8-5. Until New Orleans finds a way to play with more consistent execution and focus (which may mean acquiring players with better consistency and focus) they will stay on the edge of the playoff bubble.
The good news, though? No matter how deflating, it was just one game and one loss in the standings. This team also has more than half the season to figure things out. Games like tonight's, though, serve as a reminder of how hard this team has to work if it wants to consider itself a contender.