JDefense with John DeShazier

January 3, 2013

New year. New team. New season.

That’s the optimistic, and somewhat realistic, assessment of the Hornets now that the calendar has flipped to 2013 because now, for the first time, New Orleans is at full strength.

As such – and that means with guard Eric Gordon available, forward Anthony Davis finding his groove and forward/center Jason Smith healed – the Hornets have a 1-1 record. And in a way, this is the team that is to be judged henceforth, because this is the docket of available personnel we thought the Hornets would have entering the season.

No, I’m not suggesting that there’s a sun under which the other 30 games aren’t part of the official register. New Orleans is 6-24 in those games and that mark is every bit as disconcerting as it sounds. With or without Gordon for 30 games, Davis for 13 and Smith for seven, the hope and expectation was for a better record after 39 percent of the games had been played.

But I am saying that a fairer evaluation of this team can be made now that it’s at full strength.

Even though there remains an acclimation process, with Gordon and teammates feeling out each other and learning strengths and weaknesses on offense and defense, the impact of his presence already has been felt in limited minutes. Once his wraps totally are taken off – and that could be as soon as Saturday, in Dallas – then the learning process can accelerate.

Of course, it isn’t realistic to expect the Hornets to rack up the NBA’s best record over the final 50 games. They still play in the Southwest Division, likely the toughest in the league, and they still will experience growing pains, like the ones they had in their most recent home loss, to Atlanta, when they were outscored 28-14 in the third quarter.

But now, maybe they can put together more halves like the final two quarters against Charlotte, when they held the Bobcats to 38 second-half points, poured in 58 and pocketed a 98-95, comeback victory on the road.

Maybe now, some of those close decisions that have gone one way – three points at Phoenix, four at Oklahoma City, one at Portland, seven at Golden State, five at San Antonio – can be shaped to fall the other way.

At full strength, the Hornets certainly have a better chance of doing so than they did before.

New year. New team. New season. And 50 games to learn just who the Hornets are.

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