COMMENTARY | Prior to the 2013 NBA All-Star break, the New Orleans Hornets had won four of their last five games. Fans were concerned that the layoff couldn't have come at a worse time as the Hornets were playing some of their best basketball of the season.
Since then, their fears have been realized as New Orleans has lost three close games in a row since returning. For stretches in each game, the Hornets have played well, but in each contest, a number of late mental and physical errors have doomed New Orleans to tough losses.
This was a common theme for the 2011-12 Hornets. New Orleans consistently fought more talented teams to a standoff for 40-plus minutes, only to find a way to lose at the end. Until the last three games, this season's squad hadn't even been consistent enough to lose the same way.
The most obvious reason for New Orleans' struggles late in games is their youth. The Hornets are the second-youngest team in the NBA and until they learn how to close out these tight games, their fans will continue to endure heartbreaking loss after heartbreaking loss.
Although the 2013 NBA trade deadline passed without the Hornets making any moves, Dell Demps needs to add a veteran to this team in the offseason. Whether he'd be a starter or not doesn't matter. But New Orleans needs a proven winner in the locker room to teach the kids how to close out tight wins late.
When the Hornets lost games late like this last season and earlier this season, many believed their fate would change once Eric Gordon returned. Gordon has a history of hitting big shots late in games for New Orleans (albeit in a small sample size).
But since his return from injury this season, Gordon has often disappeared late in games. On Friday, February 22, Gordon had an incredible first half with 20 points. However, he only had three points in the second half. Worse yet, he committed several turnovers in the fourth quarter as the Hornets lost a late four-point lead to the Dallas Mavericks.
Another factor that many people ignore is that the other team plays a role in late losses as well. Often, when it looks like the Hornets are playing well for three quarters it's possible an opponent is cruising until the end when they turn it on for the win. That certainly appeared to be the case against the Mavericks and the Chicago Bulls.
The reason the Hornets lost to the Cleveland Cavaliers is that Kyrie Irving went crazy in the fourth quarter. Irving's offensive explosion exposed New Orleans' slow guards on defense. Gordon may have been able to defend Irving late, but he didn't play as this was the second game of a back-to-back.
Hornets' fans should stay optimistic as New Orleans continues to lose games late. Anthony Davis has improved considerably of late and he's playing with a lot more confidence. The flashes of brilliance that the Hornets display at some point in each game prove they will be a great team in the near future.
Patrick Michael was born in New Orleans and currently resides in the Big Easy. Patrick has followed the Hornets since they moved to New Orleans and has covered the team since 2010. He was in attendance the night the Hornets were one win away from the Western Conference Finals. Follow Patrick Michael on Twitter at patmichael84.
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