Hornets Head Back Home After Narrowly Missing Playoffs Again

Friday, April 20th 2007, 5:25 pm

By: News On 6

BETHANY, Okla. (AP) _ When New Orleans Hornets coach Byron Scott asked Chris Paul to assess his team's second season splitting time between two homes, the star point guard started talking about individual goals that had been made or missed.

Then he got to the part that really hit home with Scott: ``But we didn't make the playoffs, coach.''

Scott and the Hornets ended their two-year run with most of their home games in Oklahoma City without reaching the postseason, getting eliminated in the final week both times.

In Paul's Rookie of the Year season, the Hornets didn't know what to expect after an 18-win season and a sudden move from New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. In those circumstances, 38 wins was a satisfying total.

This season started with playoff hopes after the offseason acquisitions of Peja Stojakovic, Tyson Chandler and Bobby Jackson but ended with only one more victory than the previous season. By the end of next week, all five starters will have had surgery since the beginning of the season.

``I'm happy obviously with the way we played with all the stuff that went on, but disappointed that we didn't make the playoffs,'' Scott said Friday. ``That's all I ever want to do is get to the playoffs.''

New Orleans added to its surgery total on Friday, as Chandler had a successful operation to fix a turf toe injury in his left big toe. Paul will have a screw inserted in his left foot Monday to help a stress reaction heal.

Desmond Mason had surgery earlier this month after he broke bones in his nose and cheek, David West had an operation on his right elbow in December and Stojakovic had a disc fragment removed from his lower back.

The Hornets went 4-19 in a stretch when West, Stojakovic and Paul all got hurt. Paul was out for one month, West for two months and Stojakovic for six months.

``That's the thing I think that kind of did us in. All of those guys were hurt for a number of games at the same time; that was probably a little too much to overcome,'' Scott said.

New Orleans came back to climb into the top eight in the Western Conference after the All-Star break, but couldn't keep up after a six-game losing streak in early March.

``I think we grew an awful lot. I think a team of lesser men would have surrendered much earlier this season and probably wouldn't have been in contention for a possibility of a playoff spot deep in the season,'' general manager Jeff Bower said.

Scott said he thought there was a ``50-50'' chance that the Hornets would re-sign Mason, who is a free agent for the first time in his career. He'd also like to bring back Devin Brown, who was without a team after training camp and eventually replaced Stojakovic in the starting lineup after signing with New Orleans in December.

``We still have some work to do obviously. We're still probably a player or two away, but we're on the right track,'' Scott said. ``I love the nucleus of the guys that we have.''

Bower said he thought the Hornets already had the pieces in place to take the next step and make the playoffs instead of narrowly missing.

``I think we have that. I think we need to be on the floor,'' Bower said. ``That along with taking a good hard look at this draft and adding another player that can help us and provide depth is something that will be important.''

Scott said his preseason goal was to win 45 to 47 games this season.

``There was about four or five games that I felt we should have won anyway. With all the injuries, we still had a chance to be at 43 or 44, which is crazy,'' Scott said. ``We had a chance to hit that number, and a real good chance if we stayed healthy.''

The Hornets ended up three games behind Golden State for the eighth and final playoff spot in the West.

Considering the circumstances, Scott said this season was more pleasing than last season, even though there wasn't as big of an improvement in the win column.

``This year, the expectations were a lot higher. I expected more, then when you had the injuries that we had, it kind of deflates you in a way as far as your hopes and dreams of making the playoffs. But our guys, they never wavered,'' Scott said.

``That's the thing that I love about the group of guys that we had. They kept the faith that we could get there with what we had, and it took 80 games to get us eliminated.''

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