JDefense with John DeShazier

February 21, 2013

The post-All Star break Hornets team isn’t the same New Orleans team that entered it. And that’s not a compliment.

The post-break Hornets are 0-2, with back-to-back, home-road losses to Chicago and Cleveland on the ledger. And those nine- and five-point decisions weren’t flattering portraits of a team that appeared to have found its identity.

Frankly, the feeling is that the pre-break team that was on a roll – 4-1 in its last five games, by an average score of 102-83 – wouldn’t have dropped either game. It wouldn’t have allowed the Bulls to bully their way to a 46-37 rebounding advantage, including 14 on the offensive glass. It wouldn’t have failed to find a way to curtail Kyrie Irving’s torch job in Cleveland, when last season’s Rookie of the Year scored 20 of his 35 points in the fourth quarter.

So now, New Orleans has to identify the disconnection between the two editions, and quickly bridge the gap before it begins a three-game homestand against Dallas, Sacramento and Brooklyn from Friday through Tuesday.

Surely, portions of the dip could be attributable to the fact that the Bulls, one of the best defensive teams in the league, aren’t exactly pushovers, even without Derrick Rose. And the Cavaliers, led by Irving, can be dangerous especially when the second-year guard gets on a roll.

But what should aggravate players were the fact that Chicago had its way physically for almost 48 minutes and that the Cavaliers, when they became the aggressors, did the same in the fourth quarter.

That’s not a lapse in execution. That’s a failure to meet the challenge and that simply is unacceptable for a team that, by virtue of its makeup and the directive of its coach, has to be scrappy, gritty and rugged in order to be successful. It’s a lesson that we hoped would’ve been learned by now, four months and 55 games into the season, especially when results have been fairly favorable when the fully loaded Hornets have played that way.

But then, players aren’t robots. It’s impossible always to know how they’ll play, and it’s not as if the opposition is made of air. Other teams have outstanding players, those players have pride and they aren’t going to crawl into the fetal position just because the Hornets are on roll.

Like everyone else, the Hornets will have to take what they want.

They appeared to have learned exactly how to do that before the break. Let’s hope the last two games only were a brief, albeit harsh, refresher course.

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