Five Observations: Hornets 114, Heat 88

Friday, January 11, 2008
By: Jim Eichenhofer,

As poorly as the Hornets played two days ago during a 29-point defeat to the Lakers in front of their home fans, that’s how well they performed Friday against the Heat. In their first national TV game of 2007-08 – but hopefully not their last, since nearly all postseason contests air on ESPN, ABC or TNT – the Hornets built a 20-point lead by the end of the third quarter. New Orleans (24-12) thoroughly dominated Miami (8-29) en route to one of its finest showings of the entire season.

“We pretty much followed the script to a T,” Hornets coach Byron Scott described. “I thought in the first five minutes, we were playing Miami’s (slower) tempo. I urged the guys to be more aggressive in getting up and down the floor. Once we got into that mode, we started getting into a nice rhythm.”

Bobby Jackson played his best game of the season, piling up 25 points on 9-for-9 shooting. Tyson Chandler (19 points), Chris Paul (16 points, 16 assists), Peja Stojakovic (15 points) and David West (11 points) made it five Hornets in double-digit scoring.Five observations from Friday’s 26-point victory:

1) Hands-down, this was the best the Hornets’ bench has looked all season.
There have been many games in which the reserves combined to shoot something like 4-for-21, 3-for-18 and so on. In Friday’s game, the subs were 20-for-31, headed by perfect shooting from Bobby Jackson (25 points, 9-for-9 FGs) and Jannero Pargo (9 points, 4-for-4 FGs).

I talked to ESPN’s Hubie Brown before the game about New Orleans’ bench, and Brown had this to say: “I thought the Hornets’ bench was more productive last season. Just look at the shooting percentages of (Bobby) Jackson, (Jannero) Pargo and (Rasual) Butler, and that explains it all. For their second unit, those are the three guys that must score for you.

“Today I wrote down the three-point and field-goal percentage for the three of them, and the only one who is shooting worth a darn in three-point percentage is Rasual Butler, but he’s (struggling) from (two-point range). So you have five guys coming in off the bench, but these three are the ones you are expecting to score. I can understand why everyone is upset, because this group is not performing.” Harsh words from the knowledgeable Brown, no doubt, but not unlike anything Scott has been saying since about the second week of the regular season.

“We know we haven’t been playing well,” Jackson said of the backups. “We’ve had some games where we’ve played well and some games where we haven’t.”

2) The buzz on… Bobby Jackson.
Among all of the Hornets’ reserves who have not met expectations in the first half of the season, Jackson was the one sub who seemed most likely to bust out eventually. After all, the 34-year-old is easily the bench’s most proven NBA player – a guy who during his prime was one of the league’s premier reserves and an outstanding emergency starter whenever Sacramento's Mike Bibby was sidelined.

Scott was asked after the game if he ever lost confidence in Jackson, who had dipped to 35 percent from the field entering Friday and a meager 28 percent from three-point land.

“No, not really,” Scott said. “His playing time hasn’t been what he’s used to, but a lot of that probably was because he hadn’t been playing very well. I knew he was a guy who could get it going. It was just a matter of time, and hopefully this is a sign of things to come for the rest of the season. If he can play close to this for the rest of the season, it’s one less guy off the bench I have to worry about.” Jackson said after the game that he blames himself for his poor shooting percentages so far, saying he needs to be more aggressive taking the ball to the hoop, instead of settling for perimeter shots. “When I get to the basket, it opens up my jump shot and gives me more confidence,” he said.

3) It was hard to believe this was the same offensive attack we watched Wednesday.
How do you explain the Hornets putting together one of their worst offensive games, only to enjoy one of their best 48 hours later? Obviously the quality of the opponent was a big factor in what happened in these two games. Scott also joked that maybe his team was motivated by the fact that Friday’s game was televised by ESPN.

“I’m just going to tell (Hornets players) every game from now on that we’re on ESPN,” Scott said, with a wide grin.

New Orleans shot a dazzling 61 percent overall Friday and 62 percent from three-point range (13-for-21). Nearly everyone in a Hornets uniform looked confident with the ball, including intangibles and hustle guy Ryan Bowen, whose six-point tally was a veritable offensive explosion by his standards.

4) D on DWade keeps Miami in check.
Heat superstar Dwyane Wade was held to 11 points on 4-for-14 shooting, a stat line that every Miami opponent would gladly take every time. Given the inexperienced and unproven state of most of the rest of the Heat roster, there is almost no way you could expect them to win a game when Wade has those numbers.

“I thought we had a good game plan against him,” Scott said. “We knew had to try to contain him.”

Scott cited Jackson in particular for doing a credible job against Wade, who faced frequent double-teams that forced him to give up the ball. Morris Peterson drew the individual assignment early in the contest, but only wound up playing 14 minutes. Jackson got 25 minutes.

5) Recapping a 1-1 week.
The Hornets received a mini-breather over the past six days, playing only two games, both at home. The loss to the Lakers was discouraging, no question about it, but it’s much easier to forget that one after what took place on Friday vs. the Heat. Granted, right now Miami is the kind of team you want to see on the schedule if you’re trying to bounce back from an ugly loss like Wednesday’s. But give the Hornets credit for responding, something they’ve done well from the outset of this season.

New Orleans remains within striking distance of the top spot in the Western Conference standings. On paper, the Hornets would seem to have a chance to make up more ground this week, with two home games against opponents with losing records (Seattle, Charlotte) and a road tilt Sunday afternoon at Houston, which will be playing without the injured Tracy McGrady.

“Houston is running the ball up and down the floor a little bit more than they have in the past,” Scott related. “But our game plan is still the same against them. Defensively, Tyson does a heck of a job against Yao Ming. Offensively, we want to run for 48 minutes, because it kind of wears Yao down.”

ESPN game gives Hornets chance to impress national audience

New Orleans (23-12) makes its first national TV appearance of 2007-08 at 7 p.m. tonight against the Miami Heat (8-28), who have dropped nine straight games. Miami center Shaquille O'Neal (hip) will not play and is expected to be out another week or so.

New Orleans just activated Rasual Butler and placed Julian Wright on the inactive list, meaning the club's inactive list includes both rookies, Wright and Adam Haluska.

A few quick links:

  • For all home games, including tonight's, I'll be providing updates in our Courtside Live blog
  • Get the 411 on the Heat's problems this season in our Rival Report, compiled before every Hornets home game
  • Check out what other Hornets games after tonight could/should air on national TV
ESPN's broadcast team of Dan Shulman and X's and O's guru Hubie Brown will be in the building tonight. It's always interesting to see what Hubie has to say about the Hornets.