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John Schuhmann

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The Hornets are 16-11 since GM Jeff Bower assumed the head coaching duties on Nov. 12.
Layne Murdoch/NBAE via Getty Images

Hornets' run of success more illusion than reality


Posted Jan 14 2010 1:58PM

Usually, when a team puts together a six-game winning streak like the Hornets did recently, you can look at the numbers and see a significant improvement on either side of the ball. Perhaps they start clicking offensively or tighten things up on the defensive end.

Sometimes with a streak, a particular player gets hot or a change was made with the rotation. If not, then maybe it was just a soft schedule.

But the Hornets' streak was a mixed bag. There were defensive wins and there were offensive wins. No player consistently stepped up and they beat both good teams (Miami, Houston, Utah and Oklahoma City) and bad (New Jersey and Washington).

The average margin of victory for the six wins was just 4.3 points. The Hornets won four of the games by four points and two by five. They went from three games under .500 to three games over and put themselves in the race for one of the last playoff spots in the West, but the streak wasn't exactly convincing.

"We've found ways to win," Emeka Okafor said before the streak came to an end Monday in Philadelphia, "whether we have a lead and lose it or come back from behind, we're just making the right plays at the right time. We're getting different contributions from different people. We're not quite where we want to be as a team yet, but in the meantime, we're getting wins."

Late-game execution is nice, but consistency is better. The Hornets won just 12 of the 24 quarters they played in the six games. There were pockets of execution here and there, but nothing close to 48 minutes of good basketball.

"We've talked all season about searching for 48 minutes," head coach Jeff Bower said. "Every team in the league is doing the exact same thing. Very few teams ever reach that point, but we are looking for longer periods of good play, and we're heading that way."

The numbers indicate that the six-game winning streak was somewhat of a fluke. And that was confirmed when the Hornets lost to the struggling Sixers on Monday after trailing by as many as 16 points in the first half. They basically played 1 1/2 good quarters of basketball against one of the worst teams in the league.

Now at 19-17, the Hornets have the most inflated record in the NBA. Their point differential of -2.0 points should equate to just 15 wins in 36 games.

A look at the Western Conference standings shows 12 teams with realistic shots at the playoffs, with perhaps only the Lakers a lock to make the postseason. The Hornets currently stand in 10th place, just a game behind the eighth place Rockets. But of the top 12 teams in the West, New Orleans has been the worst statistically. That -2.0 point differential projects out to just 34 wins for the season, far less than the 45-plus it will take to finish eighth.

The Hornets have been better in the 18 games since Chris Paul returned from his ankle injury, going 12-6 with a point differential of +1.1.

"We feel that we're making steps," Okafor said. "As you climb up in the win column, it validates that feeling."

But even if you project that +1.1 differential over their final 46 games, you get just 24 more wins this season, which would put the Hornets barely above .500 at 43-39. And you must also take into account that they've played a weaker schedule (only six of the 18 opponents currently have winning records) since Paul returned than they did in their first 18 games.

Hornets Efficiency, Last Three Seasons
Season Pace RK Off. Rat. RK Def. Rat. RK
2007-08 92.1 26 109.0 5 102.9 7
2008-09 90.0 28 106.2 13 104.1 9
2009-10 94.2 21 103.6 18 105.7 20
Pace = Possessions per 48 minutes
Off. Rat. = Points scored per 100 possessions
Def. Rat. = Points allowed per 100 possessions

The Hornets have the talent to be a dangerous team. Paul is a top-five player in the league, David West has proven he can carry them offensively at times, and Emeka Okafor can be a defensive anchor. Their core isn't all that different from the one that won 56 games two seasons ago.

But the Hornets have been in a steep decline on both sides of the ball since then. And the numbers say that this recent run of success is more illusion than reality.

John Schuhmann is a staff writer for NBA.com.

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