The Hornets chose a hell of a time to play their best basketball

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Photograph by Jonathan Bachman

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David West like WHOA

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After the Hornets' lopsided loss to the Portland Trailblazers - in a game they had to win to stay in playoff contention - it seemed as if the season had reached the end of its mortal coil and the Hornets players would coast to the finish line. And with the mighty Lakers in town Monday night, it wasn't quite set up for a Hornets breakout performance.

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And then the Hornets did something that no one expected them to: they played lights out and took it to the defending NBA Champions, beating them 108-100 in front of a sold-out crowd at New Orleans Arena on Monday night. This team may be out of the playoffs but they are obviously not without some semblance of pride.

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For Hornets fans, this was as bittersweet as wins can get. Six hornets scored in double figures, Chris Paul added a double-double and the rookies combined for 35 points. All in a game that doesn't matter. And it's not like the Lakers just laid down and died. Kobe Bryant scored 31 points and Pau Gasol had 26 points and an ridiculous 22 rebounds. The Lakers out-rebounded the Hornets (48-40), had more second chance points (24-11), and had more points in the paint (42-34).

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So how did the Hornets do it? By shooting close to 50 percent from the floor, getting 40 bench points' to Los Angeles' 12 and by watching the Lakers miss 22 of 27 three-point attempts. Oh, and by not having one of those complete meltdowns that have defined this Hornets season. After jumping to a 13-point lead to start the second quarter, the Hornets let up their guard just once at the start of the second half when the Lakers brought the game within two. The Hornets, though, did not falter and finished the third quarter on a 20-5 that all but decided the game.

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And yet, after tonight, the Hornets don't have anything to show for their win other than the possibility of having a slightly worse draft pick after the season is done. Maybe the Hornets, sans injuries, could have played like this all season. In the end, woulda, coulda, shoulda can only take you so far.

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