Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Hornets 94, Bobcats 85

Another day, another loss, this time to the New Orleans and/or Oklahoma City Hornets, led by plucky point guard Chris Paul. Charlotte, at least, was eminently more watchable in this one than they were on Sunday. They cut down their turnovers (well, down to 17 anyway), stepped up their rebounding, and shot an acceptable 45% from the field. We were still only 13-23 from the free throw line, but that statistic is starting to become like your drunken uncle at a wedding—sure it’s embarrassing, but it’s funny and charming too, and you kind of like having it around.

Emeka Okafor was also spectacularly Duncanian, going for his third straight 20-10 performance (21 points and 16 rebounds), while setting a franchise record for blocks (which I’m prepared to assume was previously held by Okafor) with 7. At least once every game this year an announcer has done the obligatory, “He worked real hard during the off-season, he lost 20 lbs, he locked himself in a dungeon, he burned the word ‘Victory’ on his chest with a branding iron, he received hand-to-hand combat instruction from the world’s leading ninja, he tells us he’s never been more focused, etc.” speech about Okafor. I must admit to never buying those spiels—just look at all the superlative hype they gave Daunte Culpepper this year. But so far, so good with Emeka.

The game also featured another tremendous individual performance by Hornet free-agent acquisition Peja Stojakovic. Peja scored the Hornets’ first 20 points—literally. On multiple occasions in the first quarter, Peja had his own personal lead—he was beating the Bobcats 11-9 and 17-15. Peja’s dominant first quarter represented a paradigm shift that ironically gave me hope. Because an opposing player usually explodes against us in the second half, I thought we might be able to win if we let them get it out of their system right off the bat.

Before the game, Coach Bickerstaff pronounced that he was going to start playing only the people who deserve to play. Ummm, I’d like to think he’d always been doing that, but okay, Coach. Apparently, the undeserving are Matt Carroll, Othella Harrington, Melvin Ely, and Jake Voskuhl, because they barely got any run. Adam Morrison, however, responded to the challenge with 21 points in 41 minutes. He was clearly in over his head trying to guard Peja, but that was really the first time I’ve seen him struggle defensively, which is remarkable considering how much his guarding abilities were criticized in college. Sean May was also as assertive as I’ve seen him this year (18 points, 11 rebounds, 2 blocks); perhaps those Chinese characters he got tattooed on his arm read: “Note to self: don’t forget you’re the 6-9,” 260-lb 13th overall pick, and son of a former NBA star.”

We kind of lost our way in the third quarter, at one time going four minutes without scoring a point. But then Okafor had back-to-back blocks on Tyson Chandler that momentarily lifted me with hope; it was a spectacular 30-second rush of euphoria, like doing a good whip-it. But Peja heated up again, Brevin Knight started losing his temper (only on the Bobcats could you have a point guard who consistently gets into foul trouble), and the OK City crowd, which gets insanely happy with anything this team does, lifted their Hornets to victory.

I am the biggest fence-sitter on Chandler, by the way. On the one hand, he had 15 rebounds; on the other he had two points, picked up some silly fouls, and was usually outworked (or “out-physicaled” as Jeremy Green would say) by Okafor and May. But was Ben Wallace really worth that much more than Chandler? Mightn’t the Bulls have given up on Tyson a tad bit early? Chandler, it should be noted, seems to have a Mohawk project in-progress on his head. You can see the structural framework for it developing within his ‘fro. Clearly, he is attempting to Send a Message. Dramatic changes in haircuts are the traditional medium through which athletes put their fans and competition on notice. For instance, if a player shaves his head, he’s letting others know that he’s going back to the basics and is totally focused. If he lets his hair and beard grow out, it either means he’s riding some sort of streak, or again, he’s so focused he doesn’t have time for trivial things like grooming. But what exactly is the message that the Mohawk sends? I’m goofy? I’m a Chad Johnson fan? Rocky 3 was cool? I don’t get it.

Whatever the case, the Spurs are up next. Tony Parker, Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobli, you want some of this? Come get a taste.

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