The season is barely a half month old. It's so early, the Knicks are 5th in the East, and the Kings are in the West playoff picture. Marvin Williams leads the league in three point shooting, and Tony Parker is 3rd in scoring. Things are going to even out; there's a long way to go.
I've always believed that the Hornets would win a championship. A month into Chris Paul's career, I was sure of it. The kid was just too incredible; surround him with even marginally above average talent, and the Hornets would surely win it all, I thought. The past couple years did nothing to change my perception. As you might imagine, they probably strengthened that notion. The surrounding cast was falling into place, the big name free agent was snatched from eager suitors, and the guy that had inspired all that hope in the first place was unthinkably better than he was on draft night. When the Spurs eliminated the Hornets last year, it seemed a beginning far more than an end.
This summer, one of my friends asked me something interesting. Had I ever wondered if maybe the Hornets don't ever win a championship? If the Lakers' ascendence to power just happens to coincide with and supersede the Hornets' rise? It seems silly, but I'd never really thought of it in terms of other teams. It was definitely a plausible idea; the regular season was just so far off at the time, I didn't give it much thought.
Then Wednesday night happened. Sure, New Orleans came back. Sure, Chris Paul was Chris Paul. But anybody watching that game could've easily told you who the better team was. Teams don't build 20+ point leads and sustain them for multiple quarters by fluke. Niall's post-game comment sort of put into words an idea I'd been slowly coming to terms with: "Phil Jackson has put together a well-oiled machine. And the most depressing thing is, I'm not sure what we can do to get to that level and compete with them this season. Unless something drastic happens, there's no way I can see us beating them in a 7-game series. It's mid-November and I'm pretty sure I already know how the season will end."
I felt that exact same sense of disappointment. If they're so much better than us now, then why should we believe that New Orleans will magically make up that gap in a handful of months?
I slept on that idea for a bit. People enjoy sports because sports are random. Every game involves a better team and a worse team. Sports are fun because the better team will not win every time. The Lakers are clearly the better team. Sports are about taking the hand you're dealt, and maximizing value. The Lakers surely have the better hand. But there's a reason a player like LeBron James can almost singlehandedly topple a vastly superior team like the Detroit Pistons. The sport of basketball in general is more conducive to single player dominance than any other team game.
For me, it all comes back to what gave me so much hope to start with- Chris Paul. Virtually every major statistic worth its salt agrees on one thing: there's LeBron James and Chris Paul, and then there's the rest of the league. Those are the two best players in the game. If LBJ can lift a decidedly mediocre team past a perennial title contender, why can not Chris Paul lead a very good team past a title contender?
The Lakers are the better team, no question. But in a sport as individual centric as basketball, and with the Hornets in possession of arguably the best player in the entire league, I'm not ready to write this team off.