Stellar health tested at midway point of 2010-11

Tuesday, January 18, 2011
By: Jim Eichenhofer, Hornets.com

Among the various positives that led NBA.com to list the Hornets as the league’s biggest surprise team halfway through 2010-11 (the Knicks and Clippers were second and third, respectively), health has been among the most prominent. Entering Wednesday’s 7 p.m. home game against Memphis, New Orleans (26-16) has only used three different starting lineups. Among the five common starters, three (Chris Paul, Trevor Ariza, Emeka Okafor) have played in all 42 games, while Marco Belinelli and David West have only sat out a total of three games.

In an effort to keep the team’s bill of health as clean as possible, head coach Monty Williams is considering restricting the practice time for certain big-minutes players, including Paul and West. The Hornets are 8-2 since New Year’s Eve, but that also means they’ve played 10 games in the previous 18 days. New Orleans still has 14 games between now and the All-Star break, which begins a month from today.

“Pretty soon I’m just going to have to be forceful with Chris and David and just (hold them out of practices),” Williams said after Tuesday’s practice. “But they compete every day, and it’s hard to take that out of our practices. But Chris is dealing with an ankle (sprain) right now that most guys probably wouldn’t try to play through. People thought that when he didn’t hit shots (Monday vs. Toronto, when Paul was 1-for-8) that it was his ankle. Maybe it was, but I think it was just one of those games (where shots didn't fall).”

Along with Paul’s ankle issue, West also has dealt with bothersome ankle and finger injuries that have not kept him out of games. Williams also listed Ariza (foot) and Okafor (ankle) as having to play with recent nicks. Belinelli missed the Friday and Saturday back-to-back set, but returned Monday vs. Toronto. “It’s that time of year,” Williams said of the various ailments, in a refrain you hear from many coaches and players around the NBA as the All-Star break approaches.

A look at where national websites rank the Hornets this week. Across the board, New Orleans is in the same 10th place out of 30 teams:

NBA.com (10th, up 1 spot):“Though the Hornets' defense is the most improved in the league, it's had some really bad nights. But after getting burned by the Warriors and Lakers, they've run off four straight wins by holding the Nuggets, Magic, Rockets and Bobcats to just 41 percent shooting.”

ESPN.com (10th, up 3 spots):“Not many have noticed with so much Melo chaos unfolding and the usual focus on the big boys, but we have: New Orleans has won four in a row – and five of six on the road – in its first run resembling the 11-1 start.”

SI.com (10th, up 1 spot):“As I've noted before, Chris Paul's reluctance to call his own number on offense is one of the more confounding elements of the season. He's making 45.2 percent of his three-pointers (a career high) and 90.1 percent of his free throws, for a gaudy true shooting percentage of 60.7. Yet he is attempting the fewest field goals and second-fewest free throws of his six-year career for a team that, even with Chris Paul on it, ranks 23rd in offensive efficiency. But Paul's refusal to maximize his own contribution has been about the only flaw in his game. Advanced statistical metrics like PER and win shares rate him among the game's top three players. The Hornets are 26-16, and after preseason stories about Paul's disgruntlement in New Orleans, he and the team seem committed to focusing on the games at hand. MVP: Chris Paul. Runner-up: David West

Sportingnews.com (10th, up 2 spots):“There’s no doubting what a difference SG Marco Bellinelli’s shooting can make. He shoots 48.4 percent on 3s in Hornets wins, and just 29.0 percent in losses.”