There hasn't been much positive stories to write about the Hornets in the past few months and, with a record that puts them dead last in the Western Conference by five games, it's not hard to see why. Aside from Emeka Okafor and Trevor Ariza, the roster is filled with journeymen and first- and second-year players that most people would have trouble recognizing if they wore their uniforms out on the street (Pop quiz: Name five players aside from the two I just mentioned that are currently on the active roster).
The Hornets have seemingly plunged into irrelevancy in New Orleans for the time being. Since Chris Paul was traded to the Los Angeles Clippers, the Hornets have seen the player they traded for (Eric Gordon) watch most of the games this season on the sidelines with a knee injury (the latest report says he'll be out another six weeks after having surgery) while the Saints rewrote the NFL's offensive record book and the Superdome hosted the BCS National Championship game. Now, with Mardi Gras in full swing, the Hornets won't host a home game until 15 days away. Really, it's no wonder that the Hornets have the lowest average ticket price in the league.
But while there's no denying that New Orleans is home to a pretty bad basketball team - at least as far as win-loss record is concerned - it's not all doom and gloom for the Bees. For one, the Hornets beat the Utah Jazz last night 86-80 in a scrappy (neither team shot better than 43%), sloppy (there were a combined 30 turnovers) and surprisingly thrilling (the winner wasn't obvious until the last 30 seconds) game. Sure, it's just the fifth win in 28 games for New Orleans, but they did it with just eight players on the roster against a Utah team that's very much in the hunt for the Western Conference's last playoff spot. This team, at the very least, is still trying to win games.
A cynic would be quick to point out that the Hornets probably don't even want to win at this point. After all, between them, the Charlotte Bobcats (3-25) and Washington Wizards (6-22) the race to see who will have the highest odds to land the No. 1 pick in this summer's NBA draft is pretty tight. But while looking at the big picture may be the only way to console die-hard fans looking for some sort of silver lining in what is an otherwise completely forgetful season, it doesn't mask the fact that losing sucks and no amount of gimmicky lineup announcements or theme nights will make up for the fact that no one wants to pay good (even cheap) money to see a team lose every night.
Coming into tonight's game, the Hornets had made a habit of playing competent-to-competitive first-halves and then completely falling apart in second halves. But last night, the Hornets opened the third quarter by outscoring the Jazz 20-4 and, while Utah was able to hang in the game late, New Orleans never really let it slip away. Ironically enough, the Hornets did it on the back of Chris Kaman, a player that the Hornets publicly put up for trade just a few weeks ago. To top it off, last night was also the game in which the team puts on its annual Mardi Gras celebration and everyone got to enjoy the weirdness that is life-size king cake baby.
Of course, barring some Jeremy-Lin-with-the-Knicks-type miracle, the Hornets are not going to get magically better overnight, so wins like last night's are probably still going to be few and far between. The Hornets have been ravaged by injuries and, thus, haven't been able to find a rhythm or a consistent roster all season (thought it's hard to imagine how much better the team would be with so much untested talent on the roster). After the Hornets started the season 2-0, I wrote that eventually the team would endure a serious reality check at some point in the season. Little did we know, that reality check would last all season long.