Wednesday, April 9, 2008

The "Ouch" Game

Utah 77 | New Orleans 66
[league standings]

The Anti-Statement Game. The "CP-who?" Game. The "Don't we usually score that much in one half?" Game. Call it what you want, but last night's home loss to the Jazz was a completely brutal experience for the team, coaches, and fans alike. Utah's defense came swift and hard, holding our hometown hero to a lousy 4 points and 7 assists (and 2 of those points came on a trash bucket at the end of the game) and the team to a season-low 66 points. In a word: awful. In another word: ephemeral. The Hornets are in a near dead-heat to score home-court advantage for the entirety of the Western Conference playoffs. Despite the loss, the ugly playing, the bewildered fans filing out of the arena, the Hornets cannot afford to dwell on this. Reflect on the mistakes, make improvements, and blow Minnesota out of the water tonight as an appetizer to the showdown that awaits in the Staples Center on Friday. That should be the new game plan.

That having been said, I do have a few thoughts on last night's perfor... errr... implosion.

1. I should have seen this coming. We were in the midst of an 11 game home win streak. We were getting a comfortable lead in the standings (by beating a few easy teams). I had floor seats right behind the Jazz bench (a perk from Mr. Shinn for renewing my season tickets). Curry made CP smile before the game with his sign: Chef Paul: Best Dishes in the NBA. We were both sporting our CP34MVP shirts. There were just too many good things in one place, and the universe saw fit to provide balance. We were doomed from the get go. Good thing this wasn't nationally televised or anything.

2. Utah is unbelievably physical on both ends of the court. Their defense was brutal and they continued to push until the Hornets couldn't take it anymore. They just flat out wanted it more. And I hate using that kind of baloney/intangible/malarkey to account for a team's ability to outplay another one. But the truth is, they pushed harder, boxed out better (we were out-rebounded 47 to 36), and forced an unbelievable amount of bad shots (Hornets % from the field: 36.5%). Though we were "off" shooting-wise, they certainly weren't "on" at 43%. They just played harder. Basketball cliche number 5, or something like that.

3. The refs were terrible. It was on both ends for sure, but man they were awful. Seriously, I actually made the Utah bench laugh by screaming so much. They missed tons of hard fouls that were easy to see and then settled for calling soft crap late in the game as though they realized they hadn't hit their quota. In the first quarter the fans started booing during Jazz possessions in protest (think Boston and San Antonio), but none of the fouls (or lack thereof) were outrageous enough to sustain the booing. Instead, fans sat bewildered at the train wreck in front of them.

4. D.Will totally outplayed Paul. Sure, he was pitiful from the field (4 points on 2 for 11 shooting), but he created 16 shots (to Paul's 9) and played such good defense that Paul couldn't get into the lane for his signature soft-hands-pull-up shot. And Paul's poor contribution ended up being the big difference.

The one bright spot? We were so close to the court that during the shoot around we might as well have been involved in the game of HORSE going on between CP3, Bonzi Wells, and Jannero Pargo. In fact, Pargo came off the court and sank a shot from (sort of) behind the goal about 2 feet away from me. Seriously. I could have blocked the shot. So cool.

After it was all over, we listlessly filed out of the arena in a stunned silence. It wasn't like the silence from the buzzer-beater loss to Washington. There was a distinct pain in this silence. Maybe even a little fear. A loss is one thing. A dismantling is another. Ok, 11 points does not a dismantling make. It wasn't the loss itself... it was how we lost...

But hey, you didn't come here for gloom and doom. Let's not forget that since my last post the Hornets not only clinched a playoff spot in what is easily the toughest conference in the history of the sport, but they also tied a franchise record for wins in the season. So what if we drop one to Utah? So what if they own the series on us? Utah is one of only three teams (and the only one in the West) that we have a losing record against. Detroit. Washington. Utah. 3.

There's no loss of love here. When I married this team in the holy sacrament of fandom, I swore to stay by its side in good times and bad. And right now? This is the equivalent of an extended honeymoon (6+ months worth) with the sudden realization that my spouse sometimes gets a bad case of gas after eating dairy. Gas? Dairy? Who even cares?

Admit it... even with the occasional flatulence, my wife's hotter than yours.

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