by Alejandro de los Rios
Well that was one hell of a game wasn't it? The turning point, without a doubt, came with eight minutes to play when the game was tied at 90. The Hornets went on a 16-4 that essentially clinched the game. But more important than the franchise-record tying 54 wins, more important than beating a possible playoff team, and more important than staying atop the Western Conference, the Hornets did it all today on national television.
When we first started mulling the playoffs, an esteemed panel of bloggers from across the internets talked about how the Hornets surprise start was behind their lack of national exposure of late. With the Knicks in town on Friday, and the NBA on ABC crew in today, I decided to pose the same type of questions to some esteemed basketball commentators.
Our panel today: Hall of Famer Walt "Clyde" Frazier, formerly of the Knicks and now the team's color commentator; Kenny Smith, gold medalist at the 1986 FIBA World Championships, Knicks color commentator and part of TNT's Inside the NBA studio crew; and Hubie Brown, commentator for the NBA on ESPN and former NBA coach.
Follow me after the jump for best quote from Hubie Brown ever.
The questions I asked mostly revolved around this: why is it that, despite holding one of the top spots in the West for the majority of the season, has the national media been so slow to accept the Hornets legitimacy?
Today's Buzzwords: Surprise, small market and playoffs.
I talked to Brown directly after he finished his broadcast with Mike Tirico and he seemed in a hurry as many fans were pulling at him for pictures. When he did have a chance to talk, it was blunt. But most of all, he was honest. Brutally so.
"I think you are [getting national attention]," he said. "We all have the tendancy when we're in small markets to feel like the bastard child. That everybody is not paying us our dues. But, if you really think about it, [Chris Paul] is up for MVP, ... you had two guys in the All Star game, and you're 16-10 against teams in the West that trying to make the playoffs. So, why are you being disrespected? I mean, everybody's talking about you."
After he corrected me on my misinformed position, Brown then told me how to properly act now that I'm covering a potential championship team.
"What you have to do is be a little more mature about this and realize that you are a late bloomer to the dance," he said. "And you actually have a chance to be the king or queen at end."
I'd like to consider this Hubie's version of tough love. He also noted that the Hornets have not had many nationally televised games because they had a bad season last year and the televisions schedules are made up in the summer. Frazier, though, was more sympathetic to the small markets and talked about how the Hornets situation is emblematic of a larger issue.
"It's a major problem in the NBA if you're not in New York, Chicago, L.A.," Frazier said. "What would catapult the Hornets is if they got into a series with L.A. and beat them."
Smith, on the other hand, looked at the loaded Western conference. With six teams within four games of each other, it's hard to keep track of all of them.
"You got so many people that are doing well," he said. "Without question [the Hornets] are a surprise team, but everybody respects them. Everybody knows this is one of the premier teams. I don't think anybody thinks this team is championship caliber."
Frazier, Smith and Brown all acknowledged that the Hornets are a legitimate championship contender. More importantly, they noted that other NBA teams are looking at the Hornets as one of the top teams. That being the case, why is it that the Hornets still aren't seriously considered to win a title this year?
"It's a gradual build up," Smith said. "It's a show me game. You can go 82 games and it really doesn't mean anything."
With the exception of baseball, there's probably no more grinding regular season than the NBA. Moreover, the NBA's regular season does little to earn teams respect. As Frazier said, respect is earned in the NBA's "second season."
"In the regular season is where you make your name and the playoffs is where you gain your fame," he said. "What they've done in the regular season don't mean a thing. If they don't get past the first round of the playoffs, they had a miserable season."
So there you have it: by winning consistently during the regular season, the Hornets have established themselves as a surprise playoff contender. But now, the pressure is amped up. For the Hornets to establish lasting legitimacy, they have to make a deep playoff run and show everybody that we should be looking at this team to win the championship before the season starts.