The Hornets should take advantage of the All-Star break

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Armstrong probably won

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Photograph by Jonathan Bachman

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At 30-20, the Hornets are not exactly happy with how they stand record-wise this season. Last year at this point in the season, the Hornets had the best record in the Western Conference heading into the All-Star break and were quickly emerging as one of the teams to beat for teams seeking a championship. A couple of trades and a slew of injuries later, and the Hornets have put themselves in a position where they have to play near-perfect basketball for their last 32 games or else face the prospect of not making the playoffs.

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"It's like a game seven, all 32 games," Coach Byron Scott said. "We digged ourselves into a little bit of a hole."

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But while the first two thirds of the season may have the Hornets dissapointed in their level of play, there are plenty of positive points that one could look to. Start with tonight's 89–77 loss to the Boston Celtics. Though the Hornets faded in the final frame, they played the defending NBA Champions even through the first three quarters despite Chris Paul playing limited minutes in his first game back since suffering a groin strain 10 days ago.

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"We lost the game in the last two minutes of the third, and the first four or five minutes of the fourth quarter," David West said. "We just los it down [the] stretch."

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To wit, the Hornets looked worn down in the fourth quarter and not just because the Celtics are looking like a team ready to repeat their championship. With Chris Paul, David West, Tyson Chandler and Morris Peterson all out with injuries at one time or another this past month, Hornets reserves have taken much of the burden. After spending so much effort just to beat teams like Toronto and Minnesota (both of which are under .500) it really was a miracle that the Hornets made tonight's game as close as it was. In the end, all the adversity this team has faced may turn out to be its ace in the hole.

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"I think it can be something that works in our favor," Rasual Butler said of his team's rash of injuries. "Some of the guys had a chance to get some minutes they might not have normally got. For us to play for a championship we're going to need everybody."

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There was definitely a different vibe in the home team locker room after tonight's loss compared to other losses the Hornets have suffered in the last three to four weeks. The atmosphere was light and, at the very least, players were proud of the overall effort put forth.

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(Butler, for his part, was absolutely dogging David West as the latter answered questions for the Times-Picayune's John Reid. Reid was asking West about how he's not a prototypical All-Star athlete and while West talked about "knowing that basketball isn't the end-all" and how he's "a musician, a teacher, an orator", Butler made cracks like "I cannot believe what this guy is saying" and "your ears should be burning listening to yourself right now." The best line, though, came when West got back at Butler because he doesn't read. As it turns out, West was trying to recommend books to some of his teammates to read and said he likes to read a lot. "He does read a lot, I'll give him that," Butler said. "Sports Illustrated. ESPN the Magazine. He's got all the issues." So I guess the point of this random tangent is, at least these guys can put things in perspective.)

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Now comes the All-Star break. Scott said he told his players to try and get some work in because the real season is about to start. And while the Hornets certainly aren't in the position that they enjoyed last year, all the trials and tribulations they've endured can only serve to help this team on their playoff run (so long as they can stay healthy, that is).

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