Now that the college football season is over, it’s time to welcome back our Hornets. We keep being told they’re our Hornets, even though they really aren’t. They will kindly stick around this upcoming season, then return to the bayou from whence they came — perhaps permanently, perhaps not. The potential final journey begins tonight at 7, when the Hornets play a fake game against the Western Conference champion Dallas Mavericks inside the Ford Center. Because it’s a preseason game, it doesn’t count. Unless, of course, the Hornets win. The Mavs have beaten the Hornets 17 straight times in games that matter. If you’re naïve enough to think preseason games actually matter, then the Hornets’ losing streak against Dallas is only eight, thanks to that pivotal preseason triumph in October 2004. Tonight’s game will be a showcase for backup players. Each team’s starters figure to play roughly 15-18 minutes, giving us an opportunity to observe a slew of new talent. All of us around here certainly know what it’s like to be new. Last season was our virgin voyage in the NBA. But now that in-state fans from Boise City to Broken Bow have become NBA experts, we feel it’s within our rights to expect a little bit more from our Hornets. Before last year, we couldn’t even name all 24 NBA teams. (Huh? There are 30 teams? That seems like a lot.) OK, now that we can (almost) name all 30 teams, we’re convinced it’s time for the Hornets to finally stand and deliver. Sure, they’ve been our lovable losers ever since we met, but we’ve grown tired of waiting. We’ve had a temporary NBA franchise for one year now, yet we’re still waiting for playoff tickets to be printed. 0 for 1. That stings. That’s seven in dog years, but only a blip in Cub years. Seems like everybody associated with the Hornets has been waiting eons. Maybe this is the year point guard Chris Paul finally gets picked for the All-Star Game. Ditto for David West. Old man Tyson Chandler, who recently turned 24 and enters his sixth season, already is fifth on the Hornets in NBA seniority. Newly acquired Peja Stojakovic is 8-for-8 making the playoffs. If that becomes 8-for-9, some former college football fans around here might go ballistic. This season literally is postseason or bust. If our Hornets don’t make the playoffs this year, they’ll pack up and leave. Then again, they’ll pack up and leave even if they do. We’ve been through a lot of good times and bad times with our Hornets. • We fondly recall the thrill of their first-ever game, a 93-67 rout of Sacramento way back on Nov. 1, 2005. • There was the upset over the former World Champion New York Knicks (circa 1972-73) last Jan. 21 in revered Madison Square Garden, which gave the Hornets a .500 record (20-20) deep into the season. • We remember all those victories against upper-echelon teams such as Miami, San Antonio, Phoenix, Philadelphia, Memphis, Denver and the Clippers (albeit each was depleted by a key injury at the time). Ah, memories. Think of all the players we’ve seen come and go since Day One: Bostjan Nachbar, Arvydas Macijauskas, Maciej Lampe, Jamaal Magliore, Sean Banks, Jackson Vroman, Alex Garcia, Troy Bell, Kirk Snyder, Speedy Claxton, George Lynch (sort of), J.R. Smith (sort of), Chris “Birdman” Andersen and our all-time long-time favorite, PJ Brown. We all seemed so inseparable. This year brings the new-look Hornets, who at the moment have a dozen players not on last year’s opening-day roster. Even the new Hornets owe us for what we’ve had to endure all these, uh, weeks. Payback begins tonight, because all games matter to us. Even the ones that don’t.
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