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Hornets officially eliminated from playoffs contention

Mar 28, 2010, 11:30 AM EDT

Two years ago, the New Orleans Hornets were entering the playoffs as a young, up and coming team. Led by Chris Paul, the Hornets featured a young, dynamic lineup, and surprised everyone by not only advancing to the second round, but pushing the Spurs to the brink of elimination in a seven game series, losing at home when the buckets wouldn’t drop. Even after losing to the Spurs, the Hornets looked like the team of the future.

Two years later, the Hornets have been eliminated from playoff contention before March is finished. Last night’s loss to the Blazers finished the Hornets’ postseason intentions, though Jeff Bower says they still have plenty to play for.

The loss of Chris Paul for two months was clearly devastating to the Hornets, but considering the impact Darren Collison had in his absence (and continues to have), and the start to their season that led to the firing of Byron Scott, there’s clearly a bigger problem. The Hornets are saddled with aging wings with massive contracts in Peja Stojakovic, Mo Peterson, and James Posey. In a league that continues to get younger and more athletic, even when the older corps can contribute, there’s a downside on the defensive end.

Jeff Bower deserves some credit for pulling this team out of its doldrums, and for drafting the dynamic rookies Collison and Marcus Thornton. At the same time, Bower was the one that established the aging group. And while it’s pretty easy to argue Emeka Okafor was an improvement over Tyson Chandler who can’t stay on the floor due to injuries, the improvement wasn’t a slam dunk enough to make a significant impact.

The Hornets could look at this season as a success given that it’s possible they would have made the playoffs if Paul had been healthy. But they set the bar early with a run to the semifinals. Is making the playoffs really the only goal? Keep an eye on the Hornets this summer.

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