Jazz 90, Hornets 78: A Dismal Home Finale

There are two ways to look at this loss.

The first is the optimistic way, if such an adjective could possibly be used to describe a performance so startlingly comprehensive in its ghastliness. The optimistic outlook goes, by necessity, hand in hand with the current NBA standings because New Orleans' play tonight provides no redeeming value in and of itself.

Right now, we know that the Denver Nuggets will be the Western Conference's fifth seed. With one game remaining, they retain an insurmountable lead over the Portland Trail Blazers. The Blazers are 47-33 with games remaining against the Memphis Grizzlies (home) and the Golden State Warriors (away). The Grizzlies are 46-35 with games remaining against the Blazers (away) and the Los Angeles Clippers (away). It should come as no surprise then that tomorrow's POR-MEM tilt carries huge implications. If Portland wins, Memphis would need to beat the Clippers and have the Hornets (46-35) lose to Dallas on Wednesday for New Orleans to get the coveted 8 seed. If Memphis wins, a Hornet loss locks them (us) into the 8 seed.

Yes, facing the 61-19 San Antonio Spurs instead of the L.A. Lakers represents the view of the "optimist" here. And yes, now also seems a fantastic time to segue into that of the pessimist, who, if you think about it, may very well be the same person. 

After some jumping of course. You know what they say - all pessimism and no exercise makes Jack's beanstalk get eaten by Eddy Curry.

The pessimist's viewpoint was always rather obvious: the Hornets were unequivocally - how to say this? - flagrantly, nauseatingly, stupefyingly dreadful against the Jazz. 

The offense was unwatchable. New Orleans barely scraped together a 40% effective field goal percentage on the night, led by Emeka Okafor's 2 for 7, Trevor Ariza's 0 for 4, and Jarrett Jack's almost dizzying 1 for 8. Chris Paul continued to toe the line between "let me hold out as long as possible before shooting this wide open layup" and "oh crap, I think I have to shoot this wide open layup now." Emeka Okafor created both of Chris Paul's turnovers by spurning fine entry passes. There were thirteen different players tonight that attempted more field goals than Carl Landry. Willie Green, Marco Belinelli, and Jason Smith shot and played decently, and Aaron Gray's 1 for 5 line belies the hackery the Jazz got away with inside, but those were small, almost pointless bright spots against the dark, dark landscape of abject offensive failure.

While the defense wasn't quite as poor as the offense, some troubling signs abounded there too. With the Hornets struggling to get to a 40% eFG mark, Utah went ahead and nearly achieved a 60% mark on the night. When he wanted to, Gordon Hayward scored essentially at will (early on, it was against the smaller Belinelli). Devin Harris put in a more statistically productive game than Chris Paul. C.J. Miles put in 18 points on 9 shots, taking advantage of some sloppy perimeter rotations. No single Jazz player exploded, but then again, with the way the Hornets were playing offense, that was hardly necessary.

In their regular season finale at New Orleans Arena - and I don't want to speak for those in the arena (er sorry, "At The Hive") but over the air, it seemed almost eerily quiet - New Orleans was beaten down with disturbing ease by a team headed for the lottery. I don't subscribe to the theory that elite teams can flip a switch when the post-season arrives, let alone us. Could Monty Williams and the Hornets have held something back tonight, either due to the complacency bred by clinching or by their own readings of the standings? Nobody can say for sure.

All I know is that deep down, I desperately want to believe it, not because I'm an optimist, but because the alternative is so depressing. 

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