Tonight's loss was, in a sense, jaw-dropping. The Hornets led by 11 at the half and by 10 at the end of the third quarter and then they mentally packed up and went home. The Warriors, on the other hand, were content to finish playing the game, started the fourth quarter on a 27-7 run and ended up beating the Hornets at home 110-103.
In another sense, tonight's loss could be called the most infuriating of the season. How could a team like the Hornets, which has seen time and again that the key to winning games is defensive effort, just watch as another team put up 38 points in the fourth quarter — at the Hive? Mind you, this is the same Hornets team that set a team record when they came back from 23 points down to the Kings less than a month ago.
In many other ways, tonight's Hornets loss showed the team at its best. Chris Paul (24 points, 13 assists) showed he's in peak form and Trevor Ariza (15 points), David West (16 points) and Marco Belinelli (16 points) also put in a winning effort. The Hornets, even when it got close in the first half, were in control of many stretches of tonight's game. They dictated tempo, got necessary stops and mostly contained Monta Ellis (15 points through three quarters).
You could blame the bench, but that would be misguided since the Warriors' subs scored just four more points that the Hornets'. You could blame coaching, but Monty Williams' game plan worked well enough to keep the Warriors under 50 points at the half. You could think that this loss, combined with how the Lakers absolutely dominated the Hornets back in December, that this team has no shot of the playoffs or a future.
You could also sit back for a second and breathe. Williams hasn't even coached half of an NBA season. The Hornets have a 4 1/2 game cushion before falling out of the playoff top eight in the Western Conference. This team, with this system and these players, is in its relative infancy.
When this team was born (the start of the season) everything was peaches and roses (the 11-0 start). Then things turned south, long nights, not much sleep and crying that won't stop (the Hornets horrendous stretch from November through mid-December). Now, if you will, the Hornets are going through their terrible twos.
This team is finding its identity but still struggling to stick with it. Still having discipline issues, New Orleans has yet to put all its moving pieces together. Certainly, at times, this team is capable of competing with the best in the league. But nights like tonight prove that they're a razors edge from losing to even the most mediocre competition (the Warriors, if you haven't heard, are 14-21).
So how does this bode for the Hornets trip to Los Angeles to play the Lakers on Friday? If inconsistency is has been this team's theme, then who knows? Maybe they'll play their ugliest game of the season and end up with a comeback win on the road.
Less surprising things have happened.