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Blogcat's Take, 2/21

I’ve got to be honest with you; it’s been downright delightful not having to deal with the Hornets for nearly two weeks—no rage, no angst, no disappointment, no sleepless nights of agony, no hating God, no praying for death. It definitely makes me question my recreational judgment, because I seem to have chosen a pastime that makes me happiest when I’m not involved in it. I’ve always thought that people who collect stamps or build model airplanes are ridiculous, but I can’t imagine that they ever violently throw their stamps at the TV or strongly consider swallowing their model glue in despair, either. So I’m clearly the ridiculous one. And if all I want is for a group of people to do well but at the same time to stay out of my life as much as possible, then I should just root for my in-laws, because at least there’s a personal connection. But I guess the Hornets are like family, because at this point I feel stuck to them and don’t think I could consciously quit them.

So given this terminal attachment, let’s break down the remaining 30 games, shall we? And let’s start at a macro-level, and then get down to a Bismacko-level. This year, offense is something we only seem to do in-between getting back on defense. We have the second-worst efficiency in the whole league, 97.7, ahead of only the borderline misanthropic Philadelphia 76ers. At least we’ve been consistent, I guess, because we were at 97.6 in December and 97.1 in January (although “consistency” is only a virtue if it’s in reference to a good habit, right? No one ever credits Stalin for how consistently he starved Ukrainians to death). Our rancid inability to score has been very well documented. But here are the bullet points: We’re in the bottom third of the league in attempts from within 5 feet and dead-last in actually making them, which is highly correlated with Big Al Jefferson’s worst shooting season of his entire career (Did you know he only makes 65% of his shots from 0-3 feet? Did you even want to know? Sorry), Kemba Walker’s frustrating inability to grow another 6 inches, and Lance Stephenson (no further description necessary—in fact, from here on out, anytime I mention something that’s gone wrong, you can assume Stephenson is involved). Meanwhile, we’re dead-last in attempts from the left-corner 3, 26th from the right-corner, and in the bottom 3rd in makes from both sides. So in other words, we’re scraping the bottom of the shooting efficiency barrel and basically surviving off the moldy bread of a league-average ability to get to the foul line and the beetle dung of the #1 turnover rate.

Defensively, it’s almost the complete opposite. We have one of the best paint defenses in the business, co-starring the second-fewest attempts in the restricted area and the eighth-lowest restricted area FG%. We’re not so great at preventing shots from either corner, but we’re in the upper third-ish in defending against them (both sides). And we have the best defensive rebounding rate in the game (opponents get just 8.4% of their missed shots). Plus we’re pretty good at not fouling: we allow just 20.4 opponent free-throws per game, which is the third-best. Basically we’re a defensive Iceman from Top Gun: ice cold, no mistakes. We just wear you down. You get bored, frustrated, do something stupid, and we’ve got you. Unfortunately we usually just miss and give it right back. The defensive MVP—as always—is Michael Kidd-Jesus-Gilchrist, who’s all the way up to 4th among small forwards in defensive RPM, and—in an out-of-nowhere Oscar-worthy surprise—Cody Zeller, who’s grown up before our eyes faster than “Boyhood” and is a nose-bending 3rd among small forwards.

So that’s all well and good. Or it’s at least well. Here’s where we should really be concerned: we’ve had it pretty easy, schedule-wise. Blending in our strength of schedule and margin of victory, Basketball-reference.com ranks us just 10th in the East, behind everyone you would guess, plus Indiana, Boston, and Detroit...and that’s the Josh Smith-warts-and-all Pistons, including that whole time when they were terrible. We ARE ahead of the Heat, but hold that thought. ESPN has us at 19th using similar logic in their RPI rankings, one ahead of the Heat and also ahead of Indiana. But no matter how you slice it, our schedule’s been weaker than a Bill O’Reilly apology. And according to TeamRankings.com, our remaining strength of schedule is the 15th hardest, which might not seem bad, but it is when compared to Detroit’s 18th ranked, Indiana’s 25th ranked, and Miami’s 26th ranked remaining SOS’s—SOS, indeed. Basically, all of the teams we’re trying to punch out of the final playoff spot are fighting Glass Joes, while we’re stuck with an oncoming King Hippo.

As with King Hippo, though, timing is everything—specifically, recovery timing. MKG is supposedly back starting tonight vs. Oklahoma City, which can’t be wept over with joy enough. The dude is leading the team—this freakin’ 8-games-under-.500 team—with a +4.4 net rating (meaning we’ve outscored the opposition by 4.4 points per 100 possessions, per NBA.com), which is exactly the quantity I would love to shove up Rick Bonnell’s nose every time he annoyingly and lazily writes that Gilchrist makes contributions that “you can’t quantify.” When you consider that the team gets outscored by 6.9 every 100 possessions that MKG doesn’t play...well, if I did collect stamps, let’s just say he’d be my Hawaiian Missionary. And the biblically miraculous second-place leader in this category, Bismack Biyombo (+4.1), will hopefully be back soon as well. I really don’t know what to be more stunned over, the fact that Biz will have missed almost a month with a bruise (what did he bruise anyway, his soul?) or that I’m as upset as I am by his absence. In general, the Hornets have had less lineup consistency than Kiss; Basketball-reference.com has their most-played 5-man lineup of Biyombo, Gerald Henderson, MKG, Kemba Walker, and Marvin Williams ranked just 54th in total minutes among all lineups. However, Walker isn’t due back in lord knows when, so while we’ve been unfortunate in the playing time department, it’s not necessarily going to get any better.

Add it all up and it’s probably going to be another gripping finish to 8th place, in which much of the gripping is done by me on my own throat. As I write this, the Heat and Pistons have made some aggressive deadline trades, but Chris Bosh has some crazy blood clot problem. So that whole prognosis is murkier than Guinness vomit. As I wrote last week, Mo Williams should be a significant upgrade from Gary Neal, if only because there’s nowhere to go but significantly up. But the schedule, the offense, the extended absence of Walker, the extended presence of Stephenson, and Big Al’s shooting funk are all reasons for concern at best and outright dread at worse. Then again, the Hornets could surprise me—but if not, there’s always the model glue.

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    I'm prognosticating 16-14 over these final 30 games. How do you and everyone else see it over the final 30?

    In the beginning of the year I predicted that everything hinged on Lance, who could in a best case scenario could really boost our starting lineup and move Hendo to a more suitable backup role. 


    Instead it's been a worse case than what I imagined to be a worst case; he's been a locust storm of suck. Not only has he not elevated the starters, but he's awful on the bench, too. He's a disaster boulder that continues to get larger as it roles down hill. We're -8.0 with him and a positive +1.6 without him, and that's against mostly backups!


    So unless he turns it around or at least becomes competent, I don't think we have enough to overcome him and another month without Walker.


    The only thing that might save us is simply that everyone else falls apart even more--specifically, the Heat and the Pacers. I think Detroit will quickly leapfrog us, and we're soon going to be choking on their dust. But since it's now confirmed Bosh is gone, and with D-Wade likely to pull a hamstring the next time he knees someone in the nuts, we might just have to outlast Indy, which is certainly feasible.


    No matter what, though, it's not going to be pretty...