The T-Wolves? Really?

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by Clay A. Smith

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Photograph by Jonathan Bachman

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More often than not, the Hornets have been playing at or below their level of competition this season. So with Tyson Chandler, the defensive linchpin for the Hornets’ front line,  sidelined with a re-aggravated  ankle injury, New Orleans came out hoping to cleanse themselves of the self-inflicted stigma: being inconsistent.

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In Chandler’s place was backup center Hilton Armstrong who patrolled the paint well against a Timberwolves team that didn‘t dress their top rebounder and scorer in Al Jefferson. In  the first half Armstrong had 8  points and finished the game with 12  in addition to a season high 4 blocks and 8 rebounds.

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“ Hilton’s out there, he’s being active and he’s getting rebounds and he’s rolling to the basket dunking and getting fouled,” Chris Paul said. That’s what we’re going to need.”

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It seemed as if the contest  was decided before most fans could comfortably position themselves into their seats. The Hornets forced three early turnovers to gash the lackluster Timber wolves (20-48 on the season) for eight unanswered points. New Orleans shot over fifty percent, held  Minnesota in the thirties  for the better part of the first half and, at  one point, they had more than twice as many points in the paint.

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Leading by as many as fifteen points in the first half , the Hornets let their efforts dwindle after a 2-12 Timberwolves run to finish the second quarter put the score at 44-48.  After being outscored  28-24 in the second quarter and allowing a twenty percent shooting differential to evaporate into thin air, what should have been an easy home win for New Orleans became a dog fight down the stretch.

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“We still have to do a better job of playing better  for longer stretches of time,” coach Byron Scott said.

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The Hornets allowed Minnesota’s Kevin Love and Ryan Gomes to collaborate for forty points and Minnesota’s bench outscored  their’s 32-22. New Orleans played with the lead almost the entire game until a Love dunk put the Timberwolves up 78-89 with 4:40 left in the fourth quarter.

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A  Randy Foye jumper with less than three minutes left to play put Minnesota up 85-89

but a  pair of David West free throws allowed New Orleans to retake the lead 92-91. A shot clock violation with 37 seconds  remaining gave Minnesota the ball and an opportunity to leave New Orleans with a win. Kevin Love answered West’s free throws with a pair of his own to make it 92-93 Minnesota with 28 seconds left.

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But in the end Paul , who finished with 26 points, 10 assists, 5 steals, and 4 rebounds, and West were just too much down the stretch - the pair accounted for the Hornets final 12 points. With 12.6 seconds left Paul found West ,who up until the waning moments was a non-factor - shooting a dismal 3-of-12 for the game. West scored the game winning dunk off  of a pick and roll  with Paul.

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"[West] is not the kind of guy that's going to hang his head when things are not going his way," Morris Peterson  said. "He showed it on that last play."

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Despite defensive break downs the entire game the Hornets managed  to figure out away to win 93-94. But with the playoffs rapidly approaching what they haven’t figured out is  how to get out of their own way.

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