Hornets.com postgame: Nuggets 96, Hornets 88

Friday, January 6, 2012
By: Jim Eichenhofer, Hornets.com

Nuggets (6-2), Hornets (2-5)

It was over when… Andre Miller skillfully drew a foul from the New Orleans defense, then made two free throws to put Denver up 93-82 with 1:30 remaining. Miller’s play capped a big fourth quarter by the Nuggets, who trudged their way through much of the night before putting it into gear in the final period. The Hornets dropped their fifth consecutive game after starting the regular season 2-0. For the third time in as many games this week, New Orleans had the lead going into the fourth stanza but lost.

Hornets MVP: The in-arena award went to Jarrett Jack (15 points, 6 assists). It was essentially a toss-up between Jack, Carl Landry (15 points, 6 rebounds) and Greivis Vasquez (16 points, 4 rebounds, 4 assists), so we’ll stick with the starting point guard. New Orleans again had commendable scoring balance, but sputtered as a team in the middle quarters, tallying just 15 and 16 points, respectively.

Hornets Sixth Man of the Game: Vasquez had his best game as a Hornet statistically, going 4-for-7 from three-point range, a nice spark off the bench. The recent pickup hasn’t shot the ball well in his brief stint with the Hornets (1-for-8 on treys entering Friday's game), but it’s easy to appreciate the intensity he plays with in every game.

The buzz on… Monty Williams’ new-look lineup and rotation. After hinting earlier Friday that he would make some tweaks, Williams went an unexpected route by sliding Chris Kaman into the starting lineup at power forward, replacing Carl Landry, who came off the bench. Small lineups are the rage in the NBA, especially given the dearth of quality big guys, but the Hornets actually have the opposite roster trait – their frontcourt is deeper than their backcourt. The danger in using bigger players “out of position” is that although they can use their size to outrebound opponents (Kaman had 12 boards), the defensive end can be a major challenge. Taller players generally don’t have the lateral quickness to keep up with athletic bigs, one reason why they aren’t comfortable playing away from the basket on defense. The Hornets seemed to do a credible job defensively in the halfcourt, but were outscored 19-7 on fast-break points. On a few occasions, Denver simply beat NOLA down the floor, even scoring a couple layups after made baskets by the Hornets. On Saturday, the Hornets play another team that features skilled big men who can handle the ball and shoot, including Dirk Nowitzki and Lamar Odom.

Shootaround: Jan. 6 vs. Nuggets

The latest developments from Friday’s shootaround in the New Orleans Arena:

• The injury news continues to be a major negative for the Hornets early in 2011-12. After returning to action for just one game, Eric Gordon will now miss the next 2-3 weeks with a bruised right knee. Marco Belinelli will replace Gordon at starting shooting guard. “It’s part of the game,” Monty Williams said of dealing with injuries. “We’d love to have (Gordon on the court), but right now he’s not right. … It’s unfortunate, but it’s (part of) the NBA.”

• Williams’ rotation Friday vs. Denver will bear close watching, especially given that the Hornets essentially only have one healthy natural small forward, Al-Farouq Aminu. Aminu will start for the second straight game as a result of Trevor Ariza’s absence with a groin strain. “You may see some funky lineups at times in a pinch,” Williams explained. “Circumstances will dictate that more than anything. We’ll just try to figure it out on the fly.”

• With Ariza expected to miss at least a couple more games, the opportunity is potentially there for DaJuan Summers to receive minutes at small forward, but Summers is out with a knee injury. Williams said Summers could return “hopefully next week.”

• Based on Williams’ comments, it’s possible we’ll see more of Squeaky Johnson tonight, partly because with Gordon out again and Belinelli moving into the starting five, Williams will also have to improvise at backup shooting guard. In roundabout fashion, that could mean more minutes for Johnson at backup point guard. Williams mentioned that he may opt to use Greivis Vasquez, Jarrett Jack and Trey Johnson some at the 2.