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Heat 109, Hornets 95: "With the first 5 picks in the 2012 NBA draft the New Orleans Hornets select... The Kentucky Wildcats"

A longish headline tonight, via BobbyO504 on the Twitter machine (hey, you there, follow me! I'm like the Pied Piper of cool). On a night like this, it's our only respite.

The Hornets were never going to defeat the Wade-James HEAT, not even after assembling a rather astonishing offensive first quarter. Miami gradually clamped down defensively, making sure to sprinkle in an assortment of plays for the highlight reel and was in full control of the game by the third quarter. At that point, all we had to amuse ourselves with was the pronunciation of Marco Belinelli by the HEAT broadcast team, Monty Williams denying us the sublime pleasures of Gustavo Ayon until it was too late.

Another night, another loss. Welcome to the new era of Hornets basketball.

That first quarter was especially notable for its offensive balance; players made themselves available with regularity on off-ball cuts, and it resulted in early baskets for all five starters. Slowly but surely, it all fizzled out of course. Even the introduction of Carl Landry failed to prevent the inevitable denouement into the Jarrett Jack dribble-dribble-dribble-shot clock violation offense we're grown to despise with every fiber of our collective existence.

Emeka Okafor and Carl Landry were our two best offensive players, so naturally they took a combined 15 shots. Okafor missed just once (an open key jumper if I recall correctly) and Landry twice. Meanwhile, Trevor Ariza took it upon himself to miss 8 of his 12 shots. I don't believe it premature to eulogize the "new Trevor Ariza" we all wanted to believe in so desperately only two weeks ago. The new Trevor Ariza is the old Trevor Ariza who is not the old, old Trevor Ariza. A brief stats/melancholy interlude, if you'll allow it:

Age (Offensive Efficiency)

23 (112)
24 (99)
25 (97)
26 (96)

This was a downward trend a Chris Paul offense couldn't change, and it sure as heck isn't something Jarrett Jack will reverse.

Okay, before you step off that ledge - Gustavo Ayon. He can ball. He's got the midrange game, he sets strong screens, he has great awareness of offensive positioning, and his rebounding is solid (even if it wasn't great tonight). He's quite literally the most watchable aspect of this grisly season from hell, the effervescent braids of Squeaky Johnson his only competition.

And back to the regularly scheduled misery. Miami was especially destructive in transition this evening, and it wasn't turnover fueled. New Orleans gave it away on just 13% of possessions (by our standards, heavenly), but Miami simply found a way to run off of missed and even made shots. Both of LeBron's one-man fastbreaks in the third quarter were fueled by defensive rebounds he collected and simply never gave up. And Miami's transition rendered the one place where the Hornets had a vague, infinitesimally tiny advantage - the offensive glass - a complete failure. New Orleans gathered just 4 offensive boards on the night (a 12% rate compared to their 29% on the year) and it was clearly more due to design than a lack of effort.

And that, essentially, was that. The march to the 2012 draft lottery where, if we get lucky in terms of the odds, a coin flip will determine the future of the franchise continues steadily onwards.