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When it Matters Most, can the Hornets Finish what they Start?

The Hornets have had their share of come-from-behind victories this season, with none more memorable than the team's victory over Dallas just two weeks ago. That being said, after Saturday night's collapse against Boston, there is just cause to look at the other side of the coin as well. If you watched the game Saturday night, you know two things - first, and totally irrelevant to this article, the referees will apparently go out of their way to protect Boston's key players in crunch time. Second, and much more pertinent to my point, the Hornets team that took the court in the third quarter was absolutely not the same team that controlled the game in the first half. With this concept in mind, I decided to evaluate every game that the Hornets have played this season in which they were leading by 10 points or more at halftime. After finding these games, I then focused on how many of them I would have expected the Hornets to win (using three key points) and compared that total to how many games the team actually won. To conclude, I explain a possible on-the-court reason for the results. I discovered some pretty interesting information, all of which can be found after the jump.

The following is a basic outline of my findings:

  • Out of the 71 games that the Hornets have played so far this season, they have taken a 10+ point lead into halftime in 16 of those games, sporting a lead of 12.8 points on average.
  • Six of those sixteen games were against teams who would make the playoffs if the season ended today - vs. Portland, vs. San Antonio, at Denver, at Atlanta, vs. Chicago, and vs. Boston. To be as conservative as possible, I'm going to bump that number up to seven by including a December game against Utah, since it was played before the Jazz dealt Deron Williams.
  • Ten of the sixteen games were home games for the Hornets.

First, let's use these three facts to project how many of the sixteen games we should expect the Hornets to win. To remain conservative, let's start by giving the Hornets losses against every playoff team and wins against every non-playoff team, bringing us to a record of 9-7. But wait - ten of the sixteen games were at home; I'd say that should be good for about 1 extra win, improving our estimated record to 10-6. I feel like we're forgetting something... of course! The Hornets were up by at least 10 points in EACH of these games! That fact has to change our estimates substantially, doesn't it? I don't think that it's unreasonable to expect about 2/3 of those 6 expected losses to turn into wins by adding those 12.8 Hornets points to each final score. After all of our data is accounted for, we arrive at a projected record of 14-2. That may look a bit optimistic on the surface, but based on the facts that we have in front of us, it doesn't seem like much of a stretch at all, does it?  The opponent that most Hornets fans seem to hope that their team draws in the first round of the playoffs, the Dallas Mavericks, finished 15-2 in games that they led by ten points or more at halftime. It really is not an unreasonable expectation, folks.

Now, for the actual results. The Hornets finished with a record of 10-6 in those sixteen games. Though only winning ten of those games is, in my opinion, pretty disappointing, the fact that I find the most disturbing is that five of those six losses came at home. In a sense, I guess it's a little comforting to know that the Hornets went 5-1 in road games in which they led by 10 or more at halftime, with their only loss coming in overtime to Detroit back in December. However, knowing that the Bees only went 5-5 in home games of this nature is particularly worrisome. The five losses came against San Antonio (11/28), Golden State (1/5), Chicago (2/12), Houston (2/27), and Boston (3/17). It's easy to write off three of those losses because of the competition, but if the Hornets are at home and up by double digits at halftime, those are all games that should be and need to be won if New Orleans wants to make any noise in postseason play.

While breaking down the results of these sixteen games, I found one other trend that bothered me just a bit. The average final score differential for those games is about 7.8, which means that, on average, the Hornets gave up 5 points of that average 12.8 point lead in the second half. This number doesn't shake me too much, because in many of these situations, the Hornets were playing to protect a big lead, not to win a close game. However, these numbers are inflated by the 41 point victory in Atlanta in which the Hornets bench outscored an apathetic Hawks bench by 16 points in the 4th quarter. By removing this game from the list, that -5 differential becomes -7, a more disconcerting number. We all know that basketball is a game of runs, and while that can't be totally disregarded, my point remains the same - if the Hornets want to have any chance at doing some damage in the playoffs against a team with a superior record, they cannot afford to squander any big leads that they are fortunate enough to establish, especially at home.

Finally, the burning question - who or what is responsible for this second half drop-off? I am sure that there must be some recurring themes that we could point to that would help us explain these collapses, but finding them would be quite difficult with minimal amount of resources that I have at my disposal (hey, I don't have ESPN's stat guys working for me). I was, however, able to find one thing worth mentioning. In the five blown double-digit halftime leads prior to the Boston game, David West shot a combined 20-30 from the field in the first quarter of each game. In the second halves of each game, he made 13 of his 29 total shots (about 45%). Obviously, we can't expect West (or anyone) to regularly maintain a 67% shooting percentage; however, the thing that does disturb me is the drop-off in his shot attempts. A player that the Hornets consider their best scorer should not be taking fewer shots in the 3rd and 4th quarters combined than he does in the first quarter alone. I can't say for certain whether this decline in second half attempts is due to a change in the Hornets' game plan (though that seems unlikely), a lack of assertiveness by West, or even increased defensive attention from the Hornets' opponents, but no matter what, it is something that David should make an increased effort to change. By attempting 13 shots in the second half of the Celtics game, it appears that he is on his way to bucking this trend; if he can keep that up and remain just as aggressive, it should go a long way towards helping the Hornets maintain the leads that they work so hard to build.

If you have any questions or if you disagree with any of my analysis, please post anything that's on your mind in the comments below. I'd appreciate the feedback!