After New Orleans (32-33) overcame a 21-point deficit and prevailed in overtime at Memphis on Jan. 30, it was easy to wonder if perhaps the Hornets could withstand the injury absence of Chris Paul. Following that record-breaking performance by Darren Collison, New Orleans was actually above .500 this season in games missed by its three-time All-Star point guard.
Over the ensuing six weeks, however, reality has begun to set in for the CP3-less Hornets. Although Collison has been outstanding more often than not and done about as well as you could possibly imagine in his unexpected role, New Orleans is just 6-12 over the past 5 1/2 weeks. The Hornets are 11-16 overall in the 27 games that Paul has not played in 2009-10, not terrible given the way many NBA teams might fare without their best player, but a record that has dropped New Orleans to 5 1/2 games out of eighth place in the Western Conference.
New Orleans is 21-17 in the 38 games that Paul has started, but upon closer examination, if you take away the 3-7 start to the season, the Hornets have gone 18-10 since Dec. 4 with Paul available. Thats a winning percentage of .643, a pace that translates to 52 wins over the course of an 82-game season. Its a statistic that again demonstrates why the early-season hole the Hornets dug has been so costly.
When the Hornets were at full strength in January, they put together a string of impressive road victories at Oklahoma City, Utah and Portland. Last night, two months after their Jan. 6 triumph in OKC, the Hornets only had nine players in uniform. The Thunder posted a relatively easy 98-83 victory. Those differences in outcomes at the Ford Center and the major difference in the health of the Hornets roster provide telling snapshots of New Orleans fortunes this season.