Thursday, January 10, 2008

And the Lord said to Abraham, "Let them rule the Power Rankings"

Golden State 116 | New Orleans 103

So that whole tagline about a "devoted fan" is probably coming into question given the fact that I've taken quite a sabbatical from writing. But never ye fear my beloved [4] readers, I have returned and am glad to be posting once again. For those of you who were concerned for my well-being in my absence, you may rest assured knowing that the combination of Mardi Gras and women have been the poison that has kept me from writing (but not rooting) for my team.

Quick shoutout to Mike, whose Giants have inexplicably stunned the Pats for a victory in the Superbowl. Not that I didn't believe in their abilities (I gave them a 25% chance the day before), but honestly, did anyone really see this coming? Nope, didn't think so. Much congratulations to you, Michael. Your years of frustration have paid off... here's to relieving the NFL woes of the Crescent City in 2008. Now, on to basketball.

For those of you who have been paying attention, you've probably heard that the Hornets are on quite a run right now. A 9 game winning streak put the Hornets on top of all 3 power polls ( Stein, Hollinger, before a 3 game skid bumped them back down to reality. However, the boys are still in the top five and sport the fourth best record in the league presently (33-15, good for a tie with Dallas). The 3 sequential losses were followed by an unbelievable double-OT win in Phoenix (which was dominated by Paul: 42 points, 5 rebounds, 9 assists, 8 steals, 1 turnover). The W puts us at 3-0 against the Suns with the final game to be played on our turf. Yes, it's safe to say that the Hornets have proven that they are no joke and, in a year in which Western Conference surprises are as common as mint in a julep (at least down here), the Hornets continue to dominate headlines and dwarf other impressive feats.

As if the team's record weren't enough, 2 Hornets will be gracing the All-Star team with their presence. Both CP3 and David West were voted onto the squad by the coaches poll (the latter edging out Matrix and Baron "I dipped my face in hair and now I am a basketball god" Davis). Additionally Byron Scott was named head coach for the Western Conference, and Peja and CP3 will be participating in some of the extra contests during the weekend (Peja in the 3 point challenge and Paul in the skills challenge). The timing on all of this could not have been any better as New Orleans will be the stage for this grand event (right in the middle of its post-Mardi-Gras recovery). With the Hornets making such a strong All-Star showing (as well as grabbing headlines along the way), it seems as though this city has awoken from its drunken disappointment over an underwhelming Saints season to find a national title contender hitting the paint hard almost every night. And, it turns out, they're fun to root for.

Take the Golden State game from last Wednesday. Sure we lost, but the point is that amazingly enough we had home court advantage. I've only heard of this phenomenon myself, but I hear all of these bloggers and experts saying that it's pretty useful to fans in the seats for home games. We aren't exactly selling out, but we are drawing over 10,000 a game (probably closer to 12). Does this actually help? Consider this: a lack-luster performance by most of the squad (save CP3: 28 points, 12 assists, 2 steals, 1 turnover) coupled with Golden State shooting the lights out from everywhere (52% from the floor, 48% from beyond the arc, 92% from the stripe) should have resulted in a rout. Instead, the game was back and forth (with a dozen or so lead changes) up until the six minute mark in the fourth quarter. The fans were carrying the team through a slight slump. Did we win? No. Am I thrilled that the city is getting on board with this team? Abso-@#&*%!-lutely.

There are other things to be excited about. Ju-Ju continues to throw down nasty dunks during his scant minutes on the court. Uncle Bowen has been scoring points, including a night in which he had 8. In fact, that particular evening featured an dunk in transition that ended up in the coveted Sportscenter's top 10 plays (Pargo had some kind of faith let Bowen take that shot... or he was partially blinded by Bowen's whiteness and thought he was passing to Hilton Armstrong). Hell, Pargo himself has been quite a story as well. He's been lighting it up from all across the court and has proven to be more than up to the task of bench-igniter in Bobby Jackson's absence.

But through all of this delightful mayhem--in which my world of Hornets fandom has been turned upside-down--one thing sticks out to me more than any of these. On January 28, the Hornets played host to a Carmelo-less Nuggets. The boys proceeded to blow Denver out of the water in the kind of rout that reminds you of a video game. CP3 himself had 23 points, 9 rebounds, 17 assists, 2 steals, and 1 block, while Tyson asserted that he doesn't like being in Camby's shadow (Chandler: 10 points, 16 rebounds, 1 block -- Camby: 3 points, 5 rebounds, 1 block).

However, two moments in the game stand out. In the first half, one Hornets possession results in 4 straight offensive rebounds. After the last of these Tyson kicked the ball out to CP3 beyond the arc. As he did so, the crowd rose in unison and cheered louder than I'd ever heard them. All of sudden the fans in New Orleans got it. We always joke about how no one in this city knows how to root for a basketball team. Well, Denver was the tipping point. Oh yeah, then D-West posted up for an easy bucket. In the second half (with a sizable lead in place), Paul attempts an assist and, after the missed bucket, got the rebound dribbled back toward the arc while drawing the foul. At that moment the crowd rose to cheer, but instead found itself chanting. MVP! MVP! MVP! MVP! MVP! I thought the roof was going to cave in, but I didn't care because I was overwhelmed by a type of joy that I had never experienced as a fan. I felt a true connection to the team at that moment and couldn't help but believe that I was witnessing something special. It was as though Paul was being lifted to the Pantheon of New Orleans Sports icons... with Archie and Pistol Pete waiting to shake his hand. The best part? When asked about the chanting after the game, Paul's response was something like "Yeah, David and Tyson... they could be MVP."

Bring it on... the world. We are ready to take you.


(For the convenience of those who care, I've taken the liberty of including the scores from all of the homes games I didn't cover as well as a link to each of the game recaps from Enjoy.)

Los Angeles Lakers 80 | New Orleans 109 Loss

New Orleans 114 | Miami 88 Win

New Orleans 123 | Seattle 92 Win

New Orleans 112 | Charlotte 84 Win

New Orleans 106 | Milwaukee 92 Win

New Orleans 96 | Portland 81 Win

New Orleans 111 | Los Angeles Clippers 92 Win

New Orleans 117 | Denver 93 Win