Five Observations: Hornets 112, Bobcats 84

Friday, January 18, 2008
By: Jim Eichenhofer, Hornets.com

New Orleans (27-12) breezed to its fourth consecutive victory, building a 28-point edge over Charlotte (15-24) by the end of the third quarter. The Hornets continued to add to their franchise-record start to this season. The team has never been better than 25-16 at the exact halfway point of an 82-game regular season, but has a chance to top that by four games if it defeats Milwaukee and Portland next week.

David West powered the Hornets' attack with 28 points and seven rebounds, while Tyson Chandler (13 points, 10 rebounds) and Chris Paul (14 points, 13 assists) added double-doubles.

During the landslide victory, New Orleans authored countless dunks, part of a 21-2 edge in fast-break points. In the fourth period, even unlikely slammers Ryan Bowen and Marcus Vinicius got to show off their throwdown prowess. Vinicius had a nifty double-clutch slam on a breakaway that brought excited Hornets players out of their seats on the bench.

"I liked that," Chandler said of Vinicius' slam. "That was like a throwback to the Michael Jordan days when he used to do that. But my dunk of the night was when Ryan Bowen got one.

"I mean," Chandler continued, grinning. "He dunked with a 10-pound knee brace on his leg. That's pretty incredible."

Five observations from a 28-point win at the New Orleans Arena:

1) That's no misprint in your morning newspaper – the Hornets are in sole possession of first place in the Southwest Division.
Remember back in September and October, when we perused through every NBA preview magazine and broke down the results on this website? Whether it was Lindy's, the Sporting News, Athlon, you name it, the Hornets were projected by just about everyone to finish in fourth place in the Southwest Division, probably the league's toughest group. Yet here we are, 39 games into the season, and New Orleans is atop the Southwest.

Granted, the lead is just a half game over Dallas and one game over San Antonio, but you get my point. No one imagined that this would happen. Obviously, much of the cautious preseason predictions were due to the Hornets' widespread injuries in 2006-07 and doubts about whether they could avoid that problem (Peja Stojakovic's back ailment was the biggest concern).

Even if you knew everything would break perfectly for the Hornets, had you told your friends in October that New Orleans would be in first place in mid-January – ahead of defending NBA champion San Antonio, 67-game winner Dallas and Houston – you would've been laughed out of the room.

On the court, this has been a spectacular first half to the season. Do you realize that the Hornets are on pace to win 57 games? Of course, few around the league believe New Orleans can actually keep up this success rate over the next three months. So far, though, this team has shown that, given a healthy roster, it can hang with the West's premier clubs.

2) Blowouts instead of nail-biters are a sign of team's in-season improvement.
The Hornets are now 12-7 at home and have played much better in the Arena over the past few weeks. They're also looking noticeably more impressive when they do win than they had been earlier in the campaign. New Orleans has blown out many of the lesser opponents it has faced in recent weeks, including Miami (by a 26-point margin), Seattle (by 31), Minnesota (34) and tonight vs. Charlotte (28).

Back in late November and early December, not only were the Hornets losing too often at home (the most glaring examples were defeats to Minnesota and Indiana), but they also barely won several matchups against some overmatched-on-paper foes. On Dec. 7 and Dec. 9, New Orleans held off Memphis and Seattle, respectively, by a total of five points. Those caliber opponents have been getting throttled lately.

3) The buzz on… Bobby Jackson.
First things first: the strained right hamstring Jackson suffered in the second half does not appear to be anything to worry about, according to the 11-year veteran. Several reporters asked the 6-foot-1 guard about the ailment, but Jackson said he is fine.

Prior to exiting the game after playing just 12 minutes, Jackson had another nice outing, with seven points on 3-for-6 shooting. He's been much more aggressive taking the ball to the hoop recently, which is part of how he explains his improvement during the current four-game winning streak.

"When I'm aggressive I'm more effective," Jackson said. "Everybody was stressing how (poorly) the bench had been playing. I had to take it upon myself to get into a groove."

Incidentally, I got to talk to Jackson for about 10 minutes in the locker room and expect to have an interesting Q&A with the 34-year-old on Hornets.com next week.

4) The buzz on… Melvin Ely.
Ely was the first player off the Hornets' bench on Friday and responded with another strong game, including 11 points on 4-for-6 shooting. He again relied on his array of low-post moves and hook shots to score in the paint. Ely provides interior offense on a team that doesn't always score a ton of points there; he also gives the bench much-needed punch.

"I don't really jump over anybody," Ely described. "I can barely jump over a piece of paper. But I rely on jump hooks and shots like that. I don't try to play outside of my (strengths).

"I'm coming back slowly and surely," said Ely, who missed almost a month due to a fractured eye socket resulting from a stray Kenyon Martin elbow. "I'm just glad Coach (Scott) kept his confidence in me. As soon as I get back to where I want to be (conditioning-wise), I can try to give the second unit a good push."

5) Recapping a 3-0 week.
The Hornets made all the clutch fourth-quarter plays to pull out Sunday's win at Houston, but there was little drama in either of the past two wins, vs. Seattle and Charlotte. That's definitely a good thing. New Orleans has now won four straight games since an ugly 29-point home defeat to the Lakers. The club is 7-1 in January.

Next on the docket for New Orleans are home games vs. weak road clubs Milwaukee and the Clippers, sandwiched around a Wednesday matchup against red-hot Portland. The week concludes with a Saturday trip to San Antonio. The Hornets are at the point now where people are taking notice of what they're doing – a 27-12 record will do that. You can expect both the Portland and San Antonio games to be scores that media and fans throughout the NBA are curious to see.



Follow action in "Courtside Live" blog

By: Jim Eichenhofer, Hornets.com

We've made a few key additions to this website in 2007-08, including the blog you're reading now. During all Hornets home games, including tonight's 7 p.m. tilt vs. Charlotte, you can find out more about what's going on in the New Orleans Arena in our Courtside Live blog. Since a lot of information on games (such as player stats, etc.) is readily available on NBA.com, I'm also trying to provide more updates on other aspects of the event, including game entertainment like Hugo the Hornet and the Honeybees, videos that appear on BuzzVision, Dance Cam and things you can only see if you're actually in the Arena.

Not sure yet which Bobcats player we're going to try to chat with before the game tonight, but here is the most recent talk, with NBA Rookie of the Year favorite Kevin Durant.