Struggles against East defy explanation

Monday, April 5, 2010
By: Jim Eichenhofer,

When the 2009-10 regular season began, many NBA analysts wondered if the Hornets were good enough to compete with some of the powerful teams in the ultra-competitive Western Conference. The majority of impartial observers projected New Orleans to either secure one of the bottom seeds in the West playoff field, or miss the postseason.

Ultimately though, the Hornets’ performance against high-caliber West foes won’t be the reason they’ll sit out of the playoffs for the first time since ’07. Among the top six teams in the West at the moment, New Orleans beat all of them at least once, including a 2-2 mark vs. Dallas and a 1-2 record against the defending NBA champion Lakers.

Inexplicably, the Hornets generally had more difficulty against some of the worst teams in the weaker Eastern Conference than they did against the elite of the West. Among the seven East teams currently in ninth through 15th place in that conference, the Hornets went a combined 5-9, including getting swept by the Knicks, 76ers and Bulls. They also lost once apiece to the Nets, Wizards and Pistons, all teams that were well out of the playoff hunt by the All-Star break.

Entering Wednesday’s home game against Charlotte, which is the final interconference game New Orleans will play this season, the Hornets are just 11-18 vs. the East, a winning percentage of 37.9. Meanwhile, they are 24-25 in games against West opponents, a percentage of 49.0. That discrepancy provides another puzzling aspect of a Hornets season that has been filled with unexpected developments.