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MARK HEISLER ON THE NBA

Hornets are no threat to Lakers anymore

It seems like just yesterday (actually it was April 2008) that New Orleans was battling the Lakers down to the wire in the Western Conference. But a lot has changed since then.

December 02, 2009|Mark Heisler

Preserve your

Memories,

They're all that's

Left you.

-- Paul Simon

"Old Friends"

Preview: New Orleans Hornets, circa 2012?

Who could forget the Lakers' game against the Hornets the last weekend of the 2007-08 season, with the teams tied for No. 1 in the West, when the gritty little Hornets, down by 25 with 9:25 to play, cut it to one before succumbing?

Someone out there must remember it because TNT viewers chose it as the game they wanted to see on Fan Night.

Of course, that Hornets team had Chris Paul, and this one doesn't.

We don't know what the Lakers, who have turned awesome since Pau Gasol's return, would do against a good team because the best one they've played in those six games was 7-6 Oklahoma City.

The Lakers squashed them all by an average of 17, leading all by at least 20 points, and three -- including the Hornets on Tuesday -- by 20 in the first half.

What was wrong with that grudge match between Knicks Coach Mike D'Antoni and his old Phoenix Suns?

Of course, the 29 or so NBA teams that can use a 24-year-old Hall of Fame-lock point guard are wondering how many more Hornets teams Paul will be on after this one.

The question may not be answered for a long time, with Paul under contract through 2012.

In the interim, the Hornets have to show Paul he can get back to the top with them . . . someday.

"We're a different basketball team [than the 2007-08 team] to this point," forward David West said before the game. "We still have to make sure we continue to get better, that's the biggest key for our ballclub.

"Obviously, we can't worry about a team as good as the Lakers, in terms of trying to chase them. There are a lot of teams that we're closer to, more realistically."

When Paul went out with a sprained ankle Nov. 13 -- in General Manager/interim Coach Jeff Bower's first game -- it looked as if the teams they were closer to were the Minnesota Timberwolves and New Jersey Nets.

Anyone for the Warriors at Denver?

However diminished, the Hornets were still gritty enough to have come into this game 4-3 since losing Paul, and to have trailed only 35-31 three minutes into the second quarter.

That's about as well as any Lakers opponent has done recently, and where the Hornets got off. The Lakers outscored them 27-11 in the next nine minutes and (yawn) coasted in once more.

Paul worked out before the game, looking as if he's not too far away. The real problem is what it always was, getting him more help.

What they did in 2007-08 was remarkable, or miraculous, making Byron Scott coach of the year, after which he lasted one season and two weeks.

"I just think we surprised a lot of people," West said. "A lot of people weren't expecting much from us, so we were able to come in under the radar, and do some things people just didn't expect us to do."

Not that they still didn't need a player or two, but that June, owner George Shinn sold their No. 1 pick to Portland with Mario Chalmers, DeAndre Jordan, Chris Douglas-Roberts and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute still on the board.

Five of the eight Hornets players in rotation in 2008 are still in rotation.

Of their newcomers, Emeka Okafor is an upgrade over Tyson Chandler because he's healthy. Rookie Darren Collison is good for a waif. Rookie Marcus Thornton has promise. Devin Brown is a journeyman.

Add it up and it spells n-o-t e-n-o-u-g-h, Tuesday, and, perhaps, forever.

mark.heisler@latimes.com

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