Focused on continued rise in West, Hornets host Clippers

Wednesday, January 13, 2010
By: Jim Eichenhofer,

With 46 games and three-plus months remaining in the regular season, you may think it’s a bit too early for the Hornets to be pondering the Western Conference playoff race. But it’s actually impossible for players not to be reminded of where they stand, every time they walk into the home locker room at the New Orleans Arena. A few feet outside the door, a whiteboard lists the records and order of teams for both NBA conferences.

On the Western Conference side of that dry-erase board, New Orleans (19-17) is currently the 10th team listed, but is only three games in the loss column out of fourth. The Hornets enter tonight’s home game against the Clippers (17-19) having won six of their last seven games and hoping to move further up the ladder.

“We look at it just about every day, to be honest,” Hornets coach Jeff Bower said of evaluating where New Orleans ranks in comparison to its competition. “We always look at where we are and what other teams’ schedules are for that night, because it’s going to be an ongoing scenario all year. You’ve got seven or eight teams (in the West), all within striking distance of four or five spots. It’s a part of every day.

“But at this stage of the season, the best way to impact that is to take care of our own business.”

The Hornets have done an excellent job all season on their homecourt of boosting their playoff hopes, with a 14-3 record and six consecutive victories. New Orleans has beaten the Clippers 11 straight times, but as Bower pointed out at shootaround this morning, high-scoring L.A. guard Eric Gordon missed both November meetings between the clubs. Gordon will start in the backcourt tonight, paired with former Hornets All-Star guard Baron Davis.

“Their backcourt is very explosive and can score points,” Bower said.

Meanwhile, the Clippers’ leading scorer is center Chris Kaman, who is listed as questionable to play due to a back injury. He aggravated the injury during pregame warmups prior to Tuesday’s loss at Memphis. It was the first game Kaman had missed all season.

On the Hornets’ injury front, backup point guard Darren Collison missed Monday’s game at Philadelphia due to a knee bruise. His status for tonight was uncertain.

“I went in for a layup and someone (accidentally) kicked me in the knee,” Collison said of Sunday’s game at Washington. “I’m still not sure about (playing) tonight.”

The status of reserve center Sean Marks (calf) remains unchanged. “Sean is making progress, but there is still no projected return date,” Bower said. Bower added that Marks’ shoulder injury has completely healed, but the calf injury is now keeping Marks from being activated. postgame: Hornets 108, Clippers 94

Finally, a game that did not go down to the wire for the Hornets. For only the second time this season, New Orleans (20-17) won a game by 10 points or more – and both of those victories have come against the Clippers (17-20).

One of the best aspects of the Hornets building a 21-point lead tonight was that players like Marcus Thornton were able to get an extended stint on the floor late in the game. The LSU product continued his recent stellar play with 11 points and five rebounds, including three on the offensive end. His ability to grab boards in traffic is giving New Orleans an element it hasn’t had from the two-guard position in recent years.

The LSU product said after the game that his responsibility to get back on defense and prevent fast-break chances by the opposition sometimes limits his focus on offensive rebounding. But his athleticism and length have combined to help him excel at the skill, even against bigger players than he faced in the NCAA.

“I was a good rebounder in college, but Coach (Jeff Bower) doesn’t like me going to the offensive boards, unless I know (for certain that) I can get (the rebound) in my hands,” Thornton said. “But that’s been a trademark of mine since middle school. I get loose balls and that’s how I get myself going.”

The 2008-09 SEC Player of the Year was obviously LSU’s No. 1 offensive option, but as a pro, Thornton understands that rebounding could be another, efficient way for him to score. He knows he’s not going to have as many plays run for him as he did in college.

“Being a rookie, you’re not going to get as many touches, as you said,” Thornton told me. “You have two All-Stars on this team, and guys who have been together for a few years. So you have to do something different, by getting offensive rebounds and getting myself going.”