Thursday, November 22, 2007

There are no words, only tears

Minnesota 103 | New Orleans 94

This piece was supposed to be a glorious recounting of the Hornet's second route over Minneapolis while diffusing all erroneous beliefs that our attendance problems are really dragging this team down. I stand by my previous postings and can attest to the fact that (the 76ers game notwithstanding) that attendance was in fact on the rise. It wasn't where we wanted it to be, but it was getting better. Then the Timberwolves came to town on a Monday night. We sat in horrid disbelief as they outshot, outplayed, out-everythinged us in front of maybe 7,000 people. It was the kind of game where everything goes wrong. Your team doesn't show up to play, when they do show up, nothing falls, and every time you get momentum swinging to your side the refs screw it up with a call my blind aunt could have gotten right. The worst part: we had no sixth man. This scenario happens all the time. Bad teams will have good nights and good teams will have bad nights. We were down by 15-20 for most of this game, but we pulled within 7 with 2 minutes to play. Just as it looked as though we might emerge unscathed against all odds, the final nail fell hard into the coffin. No one could be heard. It seemed as though the Hornets were out there alone, with no one giving support. It didn't help that the refs really blew it in the second half, but in all honesty, this time the blame falls to New Orleans. Everyone keeps making comparisons to the Saints, suggesting that if New Orleans really cared about this team, they'd have sold out every game like the Saints. The Saints play eight games a year in New Orleans, and the had the privilege of returning before the Hornets. Basketball is also a star driven sport: if you want to go to a game, odds are you are going to pick your game based on what star will be on the other team. Tonight is a great case and point: who would you rather see, Kobe or Marko Jaric and company?

I know, I know. I'm fighting a losing battle. Every journalist who has anything to say about basketball can't write about the Hornets without mentioning their attendance woes. Meanwhile, I sit here and try to prove otherwise. Today, I was ousted. I feel like someone planned an intervention with me by scheduling this game. Now I know there is a problem. I will stand by my argument that poor attendance is not a reason to move a team (see the Adande posting from November 14), but if we can't get people into the arena, we will be financially up a creek before we know it. Actually, we may already be there.

Bill Simmons was right. He said that we would be a contender for the title if we had a home crowd to lift us over the bumps of the everyday grind. I can't even begin to deny it. I get sick to my stomach over this. I'm seriously going to have a heart attack before this season is over. It's hard for a fan to watch his or her team fail, and then notice that no one cares, and then (as if that weren't enough) realize that they are actually a very talented group of players who will probably start getting demoralized soon if something isn't done about the aforementioned problems. Benson won't let anything Hornets appear in the Superdome, Charter Communications won't broadcast the Hornet's games on Cox Sports to the Northshore (for those of you who aren't from the area, the Northshore refers to the area north of Lake Ponchitrain which is home to a sizeable percentage of the population all of whom are in the highest tax bracket), and ESPN decided to only broadcast 2 of our games this year--one of which was cancelled since Mr. Oden is out for the season. Conspiracy? Not quite. Unfortunate? You betcha.

Saturday night's game should be a good litmus test for how much this city does care about basketball. We host the Mavericks in a pretty crucial in-division game. If we can't sell out that game, I will promptly check myself into the same institution that New York Giant's fans frequent about this time of year. Oh, and in case you couldn't tell, my youthful idealism... still missing. Probably boarding the plane back to Minny.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Hyperextensions and a guy named Hedo

Orlando 95 | New Orleans 88

So there's bad news, worse news, and sort of good news. The bad news: CP3 is still out due to an ankle roll courtesy of Pau Gasol. He is expected to return soon, but after last season, anything with his ankle makes me nervous. The worse news, Tyson Chandler left the Orlando game in the second quarter after hyper extending his knee. Supposedly the x-rays came back negative and there's no ligament damage, but he's still on crutches. The sort of good news: a Tyson-less, CP3-less Hornets team held up against the Magic and only lost the game in the final minute even after being down by as much as 21. Actually, that's probably better than sort of good. Our two star players missing from action and we almost beat one the few other teams with a record as good as ours (both teams were 9-2 going into the game).

After a poor start and Tyson's injury (which had the arena silent with anticipation as he rolled in agony), I had pretty much resigned myself to a loss. A dignified loss considering the circumstances, but a loss all the same. And then Melvin Ely dropped a killer dunk and the whole arena went nuts. After that, the Hornets rallied to within 10 at the end of the half. I never thought I'd see the day when Melvin Ely would ignite a rally, let alone the first real fans-equal-sixth-man level of the season. We also need to credit to Hilton Armstrong (forced out of Byron Scott's "doghouse" because of the Tyson injury) and Jannero Pargo. Pargo did for an admirable job at the point in the Chef's absence. However, despite his 18 points and 7 assists, he was still a shoot first, pass second point guard, which led to many (many) missed shots (he was something like 9 for 25). Actually, it was a poorly executed drive to the basket in the waning seconds of the game that signaled the beginning of the end. Dwight Howard (aka A GIANT MONSTER) promptly send the ball back into the floor boards, which was then followed by a 3 pointer by Rashard Lewis. After that, our 2 point deficit equaled 5 and he we had to start fouling. Game. Set. Match.

Give some credit to the team, though. They held their own even when the\y were horribly mismatched, and they played well together without their normal leadership. Good things are coming for this team. (Bad things are coming for Orlando, though. The fire in Chris Paul's eyes as he sat courtside in a suit were screaming, "I can't wait until April first when we show up on your turf and I run laps around Jameer Nelson, and Tyson trips up Howard by asking him to spell the word basketball". His words.)

I will not be in town for the Pacer's this Wednesday, but I will cover that game and the road games over the weekend at some point. Perhaps when I'm bloated and lethargic from cranberries, tryptophan and stuffing. Have a great Turkey Day.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Quick detour to the NFL

I know this blog is about the Hornets and the NBA and whatnot, but I feel the need to blow some steam over the other Crescent City team. What is going on with the Saints? Honestly, what the hell? On paper, we have an unbelievable lineup, but for some reason we can't covert that talent into points on the field. We have so many problems I don't even know where to jump in. Actually, yes I do.

Jason David. Our entire secondary is anemic, but I'm blaming him for most of our woes/losses thus far. Granted, it took the entire team a little while to find its feet this season, but during that span it didn't help that David might as well have been covering the weather. I've never seen such an incompetent corner back. (I will insert his stats here when I can find them. Things like thrown on, completed on, TDs on, etc. If you know where to look for this, shoot me a line.) How does Sean Payton justify starting him. Even during our wins, he does his darnedest not to cover the wide receivers. Are we paying him for this? I think Uncle Bowen might be better suited to play his position. At least he flails about and confuses the other team. That's better than misreading every play and then hanging your head on the sideline. I now understand every New Yorker's hatred for Jay [expletive] Feely.

Problem number two: interceptions. My biggest beef with Drew Brees' 14 interceptions is that it isn't representative of what's actually happening on the field. At least 5 or 6 of those have been a result of either Eric Johnson or Devery Henderson's uncanny ability to not only miss the ball, but then bat it up into the air giving everyone on the opposing team at least five seconds to react and subsequently intercept. How can we penalize Drew for these things? He makes excellent heads up plays that are then foiled doubly by inept receivers? Sean Payton needs to address this now. Eric and Devery, I know you guys aren't reading this blog, but please STOP IT. Kindly knock the ball down if you don't feel like catching it. Next issue.

Reggie Bush. I think the best descriptor here is "underwhelming". Maybe too much came too quick for this guy. Anyone touted as much as Reggie is bound to underperform, but this guy has failed to make any real impact in almost two seasons. OK, maybe he's lit it up for a few games, but the number is definitely short of 50%. Meanwhile Colston lights it up every weekend and no one bats an eye. I think we should take some of what Bill Parcels would call "anointing oil" away from Reggie, so that he can get mad at the lack of attention... and then actually earn it back. It's a win/win. Credit would go where credit is due and Reggie would be forced to run forward once in a while.

Finally, why is Drew Brees so nice. He has no mean streak. Historically, good quarterbacks know how to step it up and get angry when the team isn't performing to its potential. Peyton does it. Brady would do it if he had reason to right now. This is the reason Brees is not on their level (it's also Romo's problem). It's like he doesn't trust his arm anymore (no one would in this scenario considering problem number 2). He plays short ball and is forgiving of everyone. Drew, wake up. It's time to get angry. You play football, not croquet. If you need inspiration outside of football, watch Steve Nash, Chris Paul, Kobe Bryant, or LeBron James. Or maybe just read a stat sheet. Any of the above would be great.

The dumb part about all of this is that we still have a shot at the play-offs. Go NFC South! If we keep playing like this, we don't deserve to go to the postseason and I hope we won't. People need to get off of last year's high--which was glorious, but has been over since October 7-- and realize we have problems that need to be addressed if we want to be taken seriously as a perennial contender.

Ugh. Final score, Houston 23, New Orleans 10. Disgusting. If you need me, I will scouring the city for my youthful idealism.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Philadelphia 2 and Out

New Orleans 95 | Philadelphia 76

Before we begin recounting last night's glorious victory, I want to give the team props for hanging in there against New Jersey on Monday (Nov. 12) and pulling out the big win. CP3 got a lot of the credit (27 points, 6, assists, 3 steals), especially since he sunk the game winning bucket driving into the lane against the whole Net's defense with something like 2 seconds to go. Pretty spectacular. But really, the whole team deserves credit for fighting it out: all of the starters were in double figures in scoring with Peja dropping 4 threes. Of course, let's not overlook the Chef's accomplishments (my friend, Curry, insists that we give CP3 another nickname. Why? Because he serves up the best dishes in town. I can hear the moans now). CP3 leads the league in assists while averages 3 steals and just under 19 points a game. He's even ranked first in the Yahoo! fantasy leagues right now. What's more is he is becoming a premier point guard. He's beginning to pull up and take shots when he doesn't like the game's tempo (like Nash), he barks at his players when he has to shoot (despite making 51% of his shots) because they weren't open for passes, and his clutch factor is off the charts (if you saw the end of the Net's game, you know what I mean). If Agent Zero is curious why everyone is hounding him for not being a good teammate, he need only look to the Crescent City. This is how you make players around you better at the point: you shoot only when you can't dish (or if your fellow players are shooting low percentages), you hold your teammates to high standards, and you never mail in a single game. Period.

That having been said, the Hornets did a number on the 76ers for the second time this season. Our preacher at the start of the game asked the men on the court remember that the sport being played was basketball--not wrestling, boxing, debate, or Jai Alai. Ok, I threw that last one in for kicks, but he did say the first three. Regardless, it seems as though Philadelphia did not get the memo. Although, despite the win, our boys played pretty unevenly; leading by as much as 24 and then losing the lead in the third quarter. Byron felt the need to give almost all of Melvin Ely's time off the bench to Uncle Bowen. That didn't help (although he did make a miraculous steal at one point only then to launch it thirty feet in the air towards the scorers table... or the second row in the crowd... whoever was more open, I suppose). At any rate, strong defense held Andre Iguodala to 5 points on 2-15 shooting, and Mo Pete stepped up for the first time, dropping 27 points, including 6 threes. Actually, just before the end of the first quarter, he and Philadelphia were tied with 18 points apiece. With that win, we are now 7-2 and heading to Memphis. Fantastic.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

J.A. Freakin' Adande

J.A. Adande, how you have disappointed me. I sent my buddies a hell of a rant in response to Mr. Adande concerning his utterly ridiculous article about the what should be done to save face in Seattle. The short version: Move the New Orleans franchise to OKC. Check it out. Anyway, my buddy, Mike, claimed this was the type of "fodder that should get published on a blog. So, here's my response to J.A.

Really? Vagabond team? Have you lost your mind? How could you possibly insinuate that the Hornets have just as much of a tie to OKC as they do to the Crescent City? This is the beginning fourth season in New Orleans (as opposed to just under 2 in Oklahoma), and the only reason they left in the first place was because of an enormous natural disaster that devastated their hometown. We may not put up the attendance numbers that big market teams like LA produces, but give us a break, we're rebuilding for pete's sake. Besides, even if the Hornets had moved, the Sonics would still be in the same crappy situation they're in now with an awful stadium and faithless owners. These guys have been secretly sabotaging their team for a few years now, in an effort to get out of dodge, and you want a beloved team, displaced by a storm, to pay the price. J.A., I'm disappointed.

First off, Shinn didn't want to sell the Hornets. An offer was made, and Shinn said no, end of discussion. So far this year, the team has over 10 million in corporate sponsorship, 54 of its 57 suites sold for the season, and attendance that has started slow, but has gained considerably since the preseason. Trust me, this city is behind this'll just have to excuse them though, as basketball isn't everyone's number one priority right now. What's more, this city showed its love last year as the home game in New Orleans (one of six) against the Laker's brought in more money than any other game in the history of the franchise. That's the kind of love that says, "I miss you. Please come home."

Ok, so it's unfair to play the K-ville victim card. However, I will stand by this team no matter what. And I am not alone. I just can't believe you'd be so ruthless in your assertion. Should we be punished because this franchise couldn't get ball rolling straight away and then tragedy interrupted the normal flow of things? I'll be the first to admit, the turnouts for games this season have been fairly disappointing. But run out on this town? No way. The reason attendance in Oklahoma was so high is because the state had never seen a professional sports franchise of any kind. You'd be excited, too.

You're right, removing this team would not destroy our city. But you're wrong to think it wouldn't hurt. It's an unfortunate situation in Seattle, but my care-meter drops out significantly since their problem is man-made. Just wait until April when the 7th seed Hornets are ripping the playoff lives out of an unsuspecting 2-seed. That's what it took for the people in Oakland to care... and I don't recall anyone suggesting that the Warriors should move to OKC...

See you later tonight after we destroy the 76ers for the second time in a fortnight.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Close, but no cigar (no love, either)

San Antonio 97 | New Orleans 85

One thing I vowed to never do when I started this blog was to blame a loss on poor officiating, and I can tell you that the Hornets home loss to the Spurs last night really had me rethinking such a seemingly short-sighted notion. Truthfully, I can't blame the loss on the officials. We shot anemic percentages from behind the arc and from the line (27% and 64% respectively), Peja had better odds of hitting the fans than the rim, and Tony Parker/Tim Duncan duo shot 65% from the field and finished with a combined 51 points. Despite those numbers the game was back and forth for most of the first half, with the Hornets trailing between 5 and 25 points in the second half (at any given point). My biggest problem wasn't so much the way the Hornets played (although "off" would be a decent descriptor), but rather that Byron Scott benched our starters for most of the fourth quarter. It made zero sense. Granted, we had an awful third quarter, but when we brought the score to within 10, all of our star power went missing. And for what reason? My buddy, Curry, and I knew the game was over when the score gap starting getting wider in the final two or three minutes and Byron Scott saw fit to put in Uncle Bowen. Victory seemed so close yet so far away.

I would like to at least offer a brief description of the terrible officiating that I do believe contributed to the Hornet's loss. Interestingly enough, the Spurs had 2 more personal fouls as a team than the Hornets; however, theirs went mostly to marginal players and poor shooters. Who cares if Fabricio Oberto has 4 fouls and has to be benched? What killed me was that Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili were invincible with the ball in hand. Seriously. I mean, I almost advocated punching Manu on fastbreaks because he was going to get the call anyway, so why not at least give him a real reason to flop. He had zero (0) personal fouls. 0. It was disgusting. And Duncan? He's even worse. Despite having 3 fouls, he managed to be the cause of so many Hornets fouls by throwing that ol' hip of his around. Never seems to fail. Especially when he's being guarded by a hotheaded Tyson Chandler who's trying to keep his cool.

I still can't get on the Duncan bandwagon. Everyone says he's the nicest guy, but I don't buy it. It could be my general disdain for all things Spurs, it could be that I am a converted Suns fan, it could be that I just can't stand to watch them get every call in their favor. My friend Sam has claimed for years that Duncan is the best player in the league, and you'd be hard pressed to argue against it. But I still can't stand him. You know what, it's probably because even though he makes all of his shots, his turnaround-kiss-off-the-glass-that-looks-remarkably-like-Shaq's-freethrow is annoying. I always see that shot and think, there's no way that's going in. Always wrong.

Anyway, before I depart, it is worth noting that the Hornets did start 4-0 with a big win over Denver and an unbelievable record-setting night against the Lakers. A hard fought game in Portland (without technical fouling Tyson for the second half) ended with the Hornets only three points behind. All in all, we're playing solid. Peja seems a bit streaky, and Byron is making odd coaching decisions, but we're still 4-2. After all, it could be worse. Ask Ken Mauer tomorrow how much worse it could be when I send someone to find him in a dark alley. See you next week.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Portland: a good way to get warm

New Orleans 119 | Portland 93

Two games, two wins. Honestly, for a team returning home with quite a few new faces, I'm glad we got to start off against two mediocre (at best) teams. In fact, the 20 point winning margin was even larger before Byron Scott took out most of the starters and gave some time to JuJu . Unfortunately that means that good old Ryan Bowen got a handful minutes as well. We will now refer to Mr. Bowen as the Uncle. That's what he looks like. That's what he plays like. That's who he'll be: Uncle Bowen.

The team looked sharp. Peja and CP3 almost dropped 20 a piece, Tyson threw down a double-double, and three players off the bench were in double figures. It was good team basketball overall. No one player took over the game per se, but it was nice all the same to see them play well together. After all, Global Icon did teach us that it takes more than one to win a championship.

Despite a strong showing, I was surprised-- perhaps even disappointed-- at the sparse turnout from the New Orleans fan base. We almost lost this team to another city, and even though OKC may be getting the Sonics (I sure hope not), that still wouldn't be enough to prevent the Hornets from ever leaving. If anyone's listening out there, now would be a good time to show some support for your team. They're great, they win; come to a game,see for yourself... well, maybe skip the next one against San Antonio, but then again, who knows? We'll see how the road games go. See you next week.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Opening Night at the Hive

New Orleans 104 | Sacramento 90

CP3 stepped out to center court under a lonely spotlight. The teams had been introduced, and the energy in the arena was building, but all eyes and ears stayed focused in anticipation. "Thank you for showing up to support us. You've done your part New Orleans, now it's time for us to do ours."

And they did. Ok, so it wasn't quite a rout, but who cares. Of course, there's good news and bad news. The Hornets won by a comfortable margin that would have been much larger had they needed their starters for more than 10% of the fourth quarter. The bad news: they beat a Bibby-less, Artest-less Kings who only stayed within reach because Kevin Martin had a great (expected) showing and John Salmons had a 22 point game (I blame the insane beard he was sporting... speaking of which, has anyone seen Brian Skinner lately?).

Of course, splitting the evening into such binary oppositions takes away from the fact that this game represented more than just a season-opening win. Halloween at the hive was the Hornet's formal (and hopefully permanent) return to the Crescent City. They played excellent all night with every starter putting up excellent numbers in front of a nearly sell-out crowd (I should qualify that Halloween is an enormous drinking holiday in this town, so that fact that they drew anyone is impressive). CP3 and Tyson put up double-doubles with West just barely missing. Peja threw up 19 points including 4 three-pointers. Even Melvin Ely was contributing. And honestly, the Kings never really showed up. Despite being the first to score, they trailed for most of the first by only possession, but then totally fell off the map. I should note that Kevin Martin was truly a pleasure to watch. He's so smooth and has a beautiful shot. I think the Kings have laid a fairly huge contract in front of him, but I think he'd do well to leave Sacramento as soon as possible. Just wait until he plays for a team that matters: he's going to run the board, guaranteed. But as of now, he plays for Sacramento.

Good game? Absolutely. Cap off the team's excellent performance with appearances by Kermit Ruffins and Irma Thomas, how can you lose? You can't. There are moments when a basketball team clicks: when the point guard anticipates every move of his teammates, when the big men are relentless rebounders until the ball goes in, when sharpshooters can't miss. When those moments all coalesce at the same moment, it's a beautiful sight. It's even more beautiful to realize that they'll be clicking all season back home where they belong.