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NBA: Hornets lose to Jazz, but have good chance of improving next year

Published January 30, 2013 10:57 pm

NBA • Solid draft picks seem likely to lift New Orleans from terrible seasons.
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It may be wise to beat up on the New Orleans Hornets — um, Pelicans — now, while you can. They may not be punching bags for much longer.

After Wednesday night's 104-99 loss to the Utah Jazz at EnergySolutions Arena, the franchise that will change its name next season is now 15-31, headed to the lottery on draft night and is virtually no threat to make the playoffs.

But here's to guessing that it may not stay that way.

The Hornets are stocked with young talent. Anthony Davis is a future star. Greivis Vasquez is turning into a valuable point guard. Eric Gordon, if he can stay healthy, is one of the best young scorers in the NBA.

"We aren't that far away," Vasquez said. "We have to defend better, we have to play better in big spots. But the talent is there."

If anything, New Orleans has to gain experience, something that plagues all young teams.

The Hornets played this game within three to five points for the majority of the night. Yet at no point did it feel like they were capable of bypassing the Jazz and winning on the road.

New Orleans, which played without Eric Gordon, would draw close. And then, there would be an offensive foul. Or a missed shot on an easy look at the basket. Or a defensive breakdown. In the end, Utah found itself in a good position to win all night.

Hornets coach Monty Williams said it best: "It was like we were on the road but we didn't believe we could win," he said.

"We're not managing the game properly. What you see out there is a young team, but it's not our young guys who are making the mistakes. It's our guys who have been in the league three or four years that are making the mistakes."

When looking at New Orleans, it's a franchise that has pieces in the right places. Vasquez looks like he can be a floor general of the future. Gordon will be the scorer. Rookie Austin Rivers comes off the bench and can play both positions. Davis is one of the better shotblockers in the league, and he's halfway through his rookie season.

The free-agent signing of Ryan Anderson ranks as one of the underrated moves of the offseason. After a few years of struggling, Al-Farouq Aminu is finding his stride as an athletic small forward. With another good draft this summer, this is a franchise that can challenge for a playoff berth in the near future — kind of like what Golden State is doing right now.

"We're capable," Anderson said. "But we're not doing enough down the stretch. We couldn't get the stops we needed. It was another game that if we had one stop and one shot, we would be right there."


Twitter: @tjonesslstrib






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