March 21, 2011

The hackneyed phrase, an NBA season is a marathon not a sprint may very well define Monty Williams first head coaching campaign. While college basketball fans across the country go mad this month NBA followers spread their emotions out over seven months, culminating in the playoff push in April. As for the Hornets, lets break down their season in terms we can all understand as we maneuver around the Crescent City.

Monty and Co. took the NBA by storm with an 8-0 start, becoming the last team in the league to lose! Its a franchise record-setting start that includes wins @ San Antonio, against Carmelo and the Nuggets, and of course over the much-hyped Miami Heat in front of the first Hive sellout of the season. They set the tone right off the bat with a smothering defense that didnt allow an opponent to score 100 points until its 11th game (ironically, a win!).

The Hornets eventually improved to 11-1 with stern warnings from Williams that there were signs of defensive slippage. Those warnings turned into losses as the Bees lost 11 of their next 16 games to fall to 16-12. Coincidentally they allowed five of those teams to score 100+ points. Still a nice start, but losses to the Clippers, Pistons, Pacers, and a disastrous offensive game @ Philly certainly tempered some of the early optimism.

Beginning with their remarkable road win in Boston on New Years Eve day the New Orleans went 13-3 through January 26th to improve to a season-best 15 games above .500 (31-16). This included a record-tying 12-2 start to the first month of the New Year and a 10-game winning streak (also tying a franchise record). The streak included huge wins @ Denver, @ Houston, and @ Atlanta along with home victories over Orlando, San Antonio, and Oklahoma City. 47 games into the schedule the Hornets were still surprising the league as an elite team playing in the toughest division and the deepest conference. They continued to be among the top defensive teams in the league, allowing a western conference best 92 PPG.

The Hornets slipped from 15 games above .500 to just 7 games over (35-28) between January 29th and March 2nd. The potholes began forming during a late January west coast road trip when lowly Sacramento snapped the 10-game winning streak behind rookie DeMarcus Cousins career high 25 point effort. Those morphed into canyons the next night in Phoenix when New Orleans lost the anchor of their defense, Emeka Okafor, to an injury and lost the contest after a game-tying layup with seconds remaining was goaltendedbut not called. The Hornets went 3-7 in Okafors absence as they fell from a top four playoff spot in the west. During the final loss of that 4-12 stretch another key starter went down with an injury as Trevor Ariza suffered a strained groin against New York.

If the 16 game stretch from late January to early March was precarious then the subsequent two weeks were hazardous to the teams playoff health. While both Mek and Trevor returned from injuries, and Dell Demps went out and acquired Carl Landry to provide the bench with an inside scoring threat, their catalyst, Chris Paul, was first battling a shooting slump and then a concussion suffered in The Cleveland Collision on March 6th. The Hornets won that game as well as a remarkable come-from-behind stunner over Dallas three nights later. Splitting the two games without Paul seemingly inspired the team particularly backup point guard Jarrett Jack who had had his two best games as a Hornet with CP out. Credit the Hornets for overcoming significant adversity this season. When a team loses 3 of 5 starters to injury, already struggles with bench production, plays in the toughest division in basketball, deals with a key players family tragedy, and has been in a playoff spot the entire season, it has earned the respect of everybody following this franchise.

Although there are just 21 days remaining in the regular season (beginning with this weeks west coast road trip) there is still plenty of ground to cover before clinching a playoff spot. Just 4 games separates the 5th-11th seeds in the Western Conference. With 11 games remaining the Hornets have 5 on the road, 6 at the Hive, 10 versus the West, and 10 against .500 or better teams.

What did Robert Frost say in The Road Not Taken?

and miles to go before we sleep

Keep all of this in mind as you follow the scoreboard, the standings, the box scores, the broadcasts, the tweets, the postings, the blogs, and of course, As fans proudly claim Im In during this playoff push I cant wait to declare: The Hornets are Inthe post seasonthat is!

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