JDefense with John DeShazier

March 14, 2013

The fourth quarter of the season isn’t off to a rousing start but it is an acceptable, reasonable one.

The Hornets are 1-2 to begin the final 20-game stretch of the season, but both losses were road drops to playoff teams looking to improve their positioning. Eleven- and 10-point shortfalls in Memphis and Brooklyn aren’t total eyesores by any measure.

What the team wants to do, obviously, is beat its share of “equal-footing” teams down the stretch. And it’s going to have to do a good bit of that on the road, beginning with games Friday and Sunday against the Wizards and Timberwolves.

And it’ll only do that if a season’s worth of hard lessons finally have sunk in.

Now, a three-game sample isn’t enough to say that they have. Some familiar warts have surfaced, ones we certainly had hoped to not see again, on defense and on the glass. And yet another injury set back team and individual progress; rookie guard Austin Rivers broke his hand while he was in the midst of his best play of the season.

But the win – at home against Portland, on the tail end of a back-to-back – was a good, spirited one. The thought that there could and should be more of them, from a team that clearly hasn’t packed it in, isn’t farfetched. The desire to finish out the season with a strong kick should be the overriding motive even during a one-quarter-at-a-time approach.

And the latter should be of utmost importance to players whose status could be in flux, whose employment in the league or with the franchise isn’t guaranteed past this season.

So the hope is that desperation and pride, properly channeled, will be the fuel in the fourth quarter. When we’ve seen those characteristics displayed, for an entire game, the Hornets haven’t yet been disappointed in the result, regardless of the score. Almost half of New Orleans’ wins – 9 of the 22 – have been against winning teams, under those circumstances, when the team has played and appeared more desperate for victory than its opponent.

The fourth quarter is here, but we’re still early in the period. The start has been acceptable, reasonable, perhaps even expected. It’s the finishing kick that’ll tell us the most about this team.

I’m John DeShazier, and that’s this week’s JDefense.

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