By Art Garcia, NBA.com
Posted Nov 22 2008 1:32AM
OKLAHOMA CITY -- Imagine a rally for Obama and McCain. Sure, it's a mildly-dated reference, but a suitable one for an unusual situation Friday night.
Who exactly was the home team? The Thunder call Oklahoma City home. The Hornets did. And for the fans packing the Ford Center, an emotional tug-of-war was in play.
They still love CP3. They love KD. They watched as David West established himself as a legit NBA star. They're watching Russell Westbrook take those same first steps.
The fans remained enthusiastically neutral to open the festivities. Chris Paul enjoyed a substantial and warm ovation, as did the rest of New Orleans' starting five and coach Byron Scott. The announcer didn't run through the lineup as is typical in every NBA arena.
That was a gracious and appropriate gesture from OKC's staff. It's only right to allow the Hornets to rekindle their two-year love affair with the city they called home after Hurricane Katrina. As least during the time it takes to make introductions.
Once the clock started rolling, allegiances were squarely with the Thunder. Obama's electoral college margin paled in comparison. Oklahoma City is sticking with the Thunder through thick and Kevin Durant.
A fan at the Ford Center displays the love Oklahoma City has for both teams.
Layne Murdoch/NBAE/Getty Images
"They're going to root for their team," Thunder coach P.J. Carlesimo accurately predicted before the opening tip.
If anything, New Orleans' 105-80 romp served as a bittersweet reminder of what OKC had and where the title-contending Hornets are now. It also should provide hope for the Thunderheads, even in the midst of 10 straight losses that threaten to derail the confidence of their new squad or Carlesimo's job security.
"We have to look ourselves in the mirror and come out and play hard," OKC center Chris Wilcox said. "We will let it go from there."
With a few more lottery picks adding to a promising Durant-Westbrook-Jeff Green core, some smart free-agent shopping and trades, the Thunder could find itself on the same path of OKC's original tenant. The Hornets drafted Paul and West, while pulling off sign-and-trades for Tyson Chandler and Peja Stojakovic.
"They've got a lot of good pieces to the puzzle," Scott said of the Thunder.
The inconsistent Hornets (6-5) clearly outclassed Oklahoma City (1-12) on this night. Then again, the Thunder seems to be the tonic for what ails most teams. New Orleans struggled to score during a stretch of five losses in seven games, but had no such issues Friday.
Scott attributed the recent slump to not playing with enough energy. One of his assistants went a bit deeper, explaining that the training-camp emphasis on defense has left the offense behind the curve. He added that Stojakovic hasn't found his stroke and Russian defector Jannero Pargo is sorely missed.
After a sluggish start, the Hornets didn't miss much. New Orleans rode a balanced attack of five who scored between 13 and 19 points. None of the starters logged more than 29 minutes. Paul had an efficient 17 points, six assists, six boards, three steals and only two turnovers. And for good measure, auctioned off his sneakers to support the local Boys & Girls Club.
"We played with a lot more determination tonight," said Scott, still an Oklahoma City homeowner whose daughter attends Oklahoma State.
The Hornets now have as many wins in the Ford Center as the road team (1) as the Thunder does in its brief history. So it's easy to see why the locals still have affection for their one-time heroes, who made a playoff push two seasons ago before returning to the Big Easy. The Hornets and Thunder actually meet again Saturday night in New Orleans.
The Hornets' successful stay here paved the way for the NBA to return after the one-year hiatus. Though many questioned the logic of the Sonics' relocation, no one can question the passion of the OKC community for pro basketball.
Asked if there is a sense of pride associated with laying groundwork for the NBA, Paul thought for a second before answering.
"I guess so," Paul responded. "I think you're probably right about that, but we may not be the team we are today without the City of Oklahoma. I think it was a combined effort in that when we were here they really supported us and gave us the motivation that we needed."
"When we were here, we played hard, we played extremely hard and we had a lot of fun. The rest of the world saw that this city could support a franchise and I think that had a huge part with the team coming here."
Home sweet home it is ... for two teams.
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