A Supreme 'Bee'atdown
Wanna talk about regression? Let's head down to New Orleans, where the Hornets had the most disgraceful playoff performance in 53 years, losing 121-63 in Game 4 of their first-round series against the Denver Nuggets on Monday night. The 58-point loss matched the largest blowout loss since the Minneapolis Lakers defeated the St. Louis Hawks, 133-75, in 1956.
The Nuggets, who have a 3-1 lead in the best-of-seven series, are obviously hungry to reach the second round for the first time since 1994. But that desire and determination doesn't explain how the Hornets got completely manhandled at home, in the playoffs, in a game in which they could've tied the series. Yeah, Tyson Chandler isn't right because of his bum ankle, and Chris Paul and David West are worn down after carrying this team -- with little assistance -- for the entire season. But there is no excuse for a 58-point loss --at any level of basketball, certainly not with paid professionals, in the NBA playoffs. That was truly inexplicable, truly despicable.
That final score is both mind-boggling and mortifying: 121-63.
You know it's bad when you barely score more points than the margin of defeat. "It's the worst we've played since I've been here," Hornets Coach Bryon Scott said on Monday night. "That's the worst basketball game I've ever seen us play."
And trust me, Scott has seen some awful basketball in his time in New Orleans. In his first year, 2004-05, the Hornets went 18-64 with a team that featured such "legendary" players as Dan Dickau, Lee Nailon, Jackson Vroman, Casey Jacobsen, Bostjan Nachbar and the incomparable Maciej Lampe. And that team probably wouldn't have lost that badly last night.
After showing some promise last season in capturing the No. 2 seed and pushing the Spurs to seven games in the conference semifinals, the Hornets truly have backpedaled. They are the No. 7 seed this season, but didn't appear to be that far below Denver (just five games in the regular season standings).
Who knew the separation was as vast as the altitude of the two cities?
To put that 58-point beatdown in some more perspective, the Hornets lost five games last postseason -- one to Dallas, four to San Antonio -- by a combined 52 points. This year, the Hornets have lost three games to the Nuggets by a combined 102 points. Do they even have to play Game 5?
Before the season, the Hornets were considered a team that could contend with the Los Angeles Lakers in the Western Conference. After plucking James Posey from the champion Boston Celtics, some even considered them a darkhorse Finals team. But the team that was considered an up-and-coming power in the West is already at a crossroads in less than one year. The team tried unsuccessfully to break up its core and traded Chandler at the deadline before the Oklahoma City Thunder balked because of an apparent toe injury. The Hornets will probably explore moving Chandler again this summer.
But things can change quickly in this league. All you have to do is look at the Utah Jazz, which reached the Western Conference finals in 2007, and appeared to be a team on the rise with Deron Williams and Carlos Boozer resembling a new millennium Stockton and Malone. But the Jazz lost in the second round last season, and got eliminated last night by the Lakers. The Jazz now enters an offseason when it could potentially lose Boozer, Paul Millsap, Mehmet Okur and Kyle Korver to free agency and, gasp, Jerry Sloan, a Salt Lake City coaching institution, might retire to his farm in Illinois.
The Jazz should still be competitive with Williams, just as the Hornets will stay good with Paul, but you have wonder if they will lead elite teams if big pieces start skipping town. If the Boston Celtics proved anything last year -- when Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen took full advantage of their best shot at a championship -- it's that there really is no security in "next year."
Next year, players can get hurt or traded, coaches can get fired, and you can be left clinging to what might've been. Or wondering how you just got shellacked by 58 points.
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