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Blogcat's Take, 11/7

Trying to pick my favorite moment from these last few Hornets games is like trying to pick my favorite Lucky Charms marshmallow. Probably the most important big-picture development is that we managed to beat a high-quality opponent, the Bulls, for the first time in a while. If you look back to last year (and can do so without hellfire burning holes in your eye sockets), our most impressive victory was maybe…over these same Bulls in February. But that was also the game after which they’d lost Derrick Rose to surgery, and I distinctly remember the entire team looking like a bunch of preschoolers who’d just watched a puppy get euthanized. We also had back-to-back wins over the Wizards in February, but John Wall was suffering from migraines at the time and looked like he might flop to the floor in convulsions at any moment. This was also when Randy Wittman was at Peak Wittman, the Wizards were in the middle of a 2-11 stretch, and D.C. fans were longing for the stability of the Gilbert Arenas-Larry Hughes days. The only other candidate has to be the Lance Game—the 2-OT thriller vs. the Hawks that happened exactly one year ago tomorrow, and as we all know it ushered in a new era of greatness for both Lance and the franchise. Okay, so maybe the entire Lance experiment flamed out in a gigantic shit-bomb, but never forget that he gave us this:

My point is, the Hornets very rarely punch above their weight. The best they usually do is come close and fail. Even that game against the Hawks took two overtimes, a banked-3-pointer, and an extremely rarely called illegal screen on an in-bound on Kyle Korver of all people to set up Lance’s shot in the first place; it was hardly a decisive masterpiece. Plus the Hawks were just 1-3 at the time; nobody had any inkling they’d morph into a regular season juggernaut who would win the #1 seed by seven games. And these were our most impressive wins! This pitiful portfolio is rarer than you would think; despite the relative lack of randomness in the NBA, even a broken mid-1980s Casio wristwatch/calculator combo of a team comes through once in awhile. Take the Knicks, who won only 17 games, but among whose victims were the Cavs, the Thunder, and the Spurs (who were not Popovich-ing on that one, either; they played their real guys real minutes and lost).

So I’m savoring the taste of that Bulls win with every square-centimeter of my tongue. Chicago was fully loaded with all their dudes, were not coming off a back-to-back, and have already taken out Cleveland and OKC; there’s every indication that they are a legit threat for the #2 seed or higher. And this win wasn’t a close one that could’ve gone either way. Derrick Rose. Jimmy Butler. Pau Gasol…Tell ‘em, Rod:

Damn right! It was just fantastic, as was the beat-down of the Dallas Mavericks in the following game. However, let’s face it, the Mavs might have the saddest, most decrepit roster in the league. They’re starting Raymond Felton and Deron Williams at the guard position at the same time, for god’s sake. How fat do you think those two are going to be 5 years after retirement? 10 years? I’d say 350 lbs is a lock, at least for Williams, and 4 bills is absolutely in play. Meanwhile, Zaza Pechulia is starting at center, and not because someone else is hurt? No wonder that whole Clipper/Twitter thing with DeAndre Jordan was so painful for Mark Cuban & Company. Viewed through the eyes of a Mavs fan it must have felt like someone was tweeting out live pics of hate-crimes. Regardless, I delighted in that win as well.

Amongst our individual players, we have to be most excited about Jeremy Lamb, no? I wrote hopeful things about him in my preseason previews, but I was mostly going off his per-minute production stats on paper. My actual memories of him before coming to Charlotte mainly involve corner-3’s and mopey facial expressions. Also, for Hornets fans, it’s hard to think about peeling a young guy off the Thunder and not be reminded of Byron Mullins, who got us excited for awhile but ultimately played basketball about as well as he grew facial hair.

Lamb, by contrast, has shown that he can put the rock on the floor and stuff it down fools’ necks AND bury 3’s while being guarded closer than the President’s last Nicorette in the middle of an all-day summit. He’s also been good for at least 1-to-2 mini-circus shots a game. Please bear in mind that this is not sustainable. Per Basketball-Reference.com, he’s got a 30.2 PER so far, over twice his career average; and his TS% is .692, up from last year’s career high of .538. Tellingly, he’s taking far more long-range 2’s than he did last year, which is usually a death-sentence for efficiency. And as I said, he’s been less open than he was last year, too: per NBA.com’s tracking stats, just 37.5% of his attempts this year have come without a defender within 4-feet of him, compared to 47.6% last year (breaking news: defenders are not as afraid of Jeremy Lin as they were of Russell Westbrook). So, basically, yes, this has all the signs of a classic small sample size, Mo Williamsian bubble. Let’s just hope when it bursts it does so with something less than the force of the Stay Puft man.

But that’s the additional good news: even a regression to the mean for Lamb would still be freaking awesome for us. That .538 TS% he put up last year that got him shipped out of OKC? It would have been third-highest on our team. He’s also barely been fouled. Last year, he averaged 1.7 drives per game and 0.7 free throw attempts per game. This year he’s at 2.3 drives and 0.0 free throws; either he’s cloaked in Predator camo or the refs aren’t giving him the benefit of the doubt. I would expect that same mean regression to work in our favor in this case. Also, should all of his offense fail, it looks like he’s tasted that sweet Clifford nectar when it comes to defense: he’s got the best defensive rating on the team, 95.2 points/100 possessions, and it shoots up to 103.9 when he’s on the bench. And if you look at opponent FG% when Lamb’s guarding them compared with league average, it’s practically negatives across the board. He’s sticking those E.T. arms in opponents’ faces like they were bags of Reese’s Pieces.

All right, it’s time for me to settle down. For one thing, it’s probably taken me longer to write this column than all of Lamb’s minutes combined. For another, the Hornets could quite easily lose by 40 tonight in San Antonio and then get savagely butchered by Karl-Anthony Towns on Tuesday, and I’ll be right back to developing an ulcer. Yes, it’s been an inspired few games from Lamb and the rest of the guys, but I was undoubtedly saying the same thing last year after taking a bite from the forbidden Lance fruit, so I should probably just enjoy it for what it is without getting carried away.

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