Five Observations: Hornets 106, Bucks 92

Monday, January 21, 2008
By: Jim Eichenhofer, Hornets.com

In his words, Byron Scott was upset. His team came out for Monday's afternoon matinee a bit sluggish, and the result was a four-point Milwaukee halftime lead.

To the delight of Scott and Hornets fans in attendance, however, the hosts responded in a big way after intermission, completely turning around the game. New Orleans (28-12) went up by as many as 21 points in the fourth quarter, notching its fifth straight victory.

"We were on our heels in the first half and didn't come out aggressively," Scott explained. "At halftime we talked about coming out more aggressive on both ends of the court. We needed to play a little bit harder, especially on defense, and we thought that would get the offense going.

"We were down 54-50 at halftime, and I thought we had played pretty badly. I didn't think we had any intensity. In the second half, we were more aggressive and all of the sudden were shooting (much better). It was more about effort than anything else."

In an extremely balanced showing, all five starters reached double-digit scoring, topped by Tyson Chandler's 20 points. He also grabbed 15 rebounds. Everyone else had between 14 and 18 points, including Chris Paul's 16-point, 10-assist, seven-rebound outing.

Five observations from the 14-point win at the New Orleans Arena:

1) The buzz on… Morris Peterson.
I've heard plenty of media members and fans lately saying "What's wrong with Mo Pete?" when they look at his offensive stats and see that, for example, he only averaged 2.8 points over the previous five games. It sounds like a cliché, but you have to realize that Peterson's role here is not always going to be about what shows up on the stat sheet. For the first time in his career, he is the fourth offensive option on a team – actually, maybe the fifth option with Chandler producing as well as he has lately – and Peterson's not getting consistent shot attempts. Contrast that with his 2005-06 season in Toronto, when he averaged 16.8 points, got to fire pretty much at will whenever and from wherever… but the Raptors went 27-55.

"We've got a great bunch of guys who can score," Peterson said of his role as a Hornet. "The coaches know I'm not just a one-dimensional player. I don't mind being a fourth or fifth option. It's all about being ready when my number is called.

"It's a lot more fun being on a team where you're winning," Peterson compared to some of the down years the Raptors had when he was in Canada. "I would rather be contributing what I'm contributing now to a team that's winning, than being on a team that's 4-30, but I'm averaging 25 points a game. There is no fun in that. I play this game to win. Right now, I'm having a lot of fun."

Peterson broke out of his recent quiet stretch Monday with 14 points, including going 4-for-7 from three-point range.

2) The buzz on… Jannero Pargo.
In each of the past two summers, the 6-foot-1 guard has signed a two-year free-agent contract with the Hornets, with a player option for the second year. Maybe the Arkansas product should think about putting in a clause in his next deal that escalates his pay based on playing time. Last season, Pargo was pressed into a much larger role when injuries hit Chris Paul and Bobby Jackson, leading Pargo to make seven starts in 2006-07. He's already been a starter four times this season.

On Monday, the injury to Bobby Jackson (strained right hamstring) partly resulted in Pargo logging 24 minutes, the most of any reserve. Jackson is being listed as day-to-day, but even if he returns Wednesday, Pargo has earned more minutes with his performance during the current five-game winning streak.

If you're wondering how Pargo can experience stretches where he gets hardly any minutes, but then immediately produces when he sees a sudden increase in action, understand this: He knows what it's like to not have any idea when – or even if – his coach would put him into a game. In fact, his experience with the Hornets has been a great deal easier to cope with mentally than many of his previous NBA seasons.

"When I was in Chicago, that was a lot tougher than this situation," Pargo compared. "I didn't know if I was going to play at all there. I'd sit for five games, then maybe come in for one game and play well, but sit another five games.

"This is all mental," Pargo said of adjusting to fluctuating minutes with the Hornets. "You've got to keep a good attitude and the same approach, whether you play five minutes or 20. Keep the same intensity and help the team win.

"What I bring is very uncommon (in the NBA). It's tough to sit on the bench and come in and be a sparkplug. I guess that's why I've been able to stay in the league this long."

3) The buzz on… Peja Stojakovic.
After Stojakovic drilled one of his four three-pointers in Monday's game, you could see Hornets owner George Shinn grinning from ear to ear and enthusiastically cheering on the small forward. With Peja missing only a handful of games due to injury this season – and none due to the back injury that ruined his 2006-07 campaign – everyone is feeling better about the commitment the team made when Stojakovic was signed to a substantial five-year deal in July 2006. This offseason, that signing had been questioned by many of the people around the NBA that I talked to, privately and publicly. But without Peja, there is no way this team is 28-12 right now. Interestingly enough, although Stojakovic has always been one of the game's best shooters, he's connecting on a career-best 44.2 percent of his three-point attempts right now, in his 10th NBA season. Yes, playing with Chris Paul has at least a little something to do with that.

4) Defense is fueling a parade of dunks and easy baskets.
This three-game stretch of home games has included more easy baskets for the Hornets than any period of the season. Scott credits the Hornets' defense – which is ranked in the top four in the NBA right now – for sparking a stream of transition hoops. New Orleans had seven dunks in Monday's game, including three by Chandler in the fourth quarter alone.

You know the Hornets are getting dunk-hungry when you see Pargo attempt an alley-oop pass to Paul on a fast break – which happened in the fourth quarter today. Paul opted to lay it in instead of throwing it down. But given how prolific the Hornets have been lately, it's gotten to the point where you're not surprised when you see a 6-foot-1 player toss up an alley oop to a 6-foot teammate.

5) Rotation update.
With Jackson sidelined Monday, Scott opted to go with an eight-man rotation, with Pargo, Melvin Ely and Ryan Bowen the only reserves to play while the outcome was still undecided. As mentioned above, Pargo is playing very well over the last couple weeks. Ely has done a nice job as well, scoring six points and grabbing three boards vs. Milwaukee. Bowen continues to do whatever is asked of him by the coaches. The only thing that showed up in his stats Monday was one offensive rebound, but even that was typical Bowen, with him swooping in out of nowhere to pull the ball away from a surprised Bucks player under the rim.



Hornets host Bucks at 2:30 today in special matinee


New Orleans (27-12) tries to compile a five-game winning streak for a third separate time in 2007-08, hosting Milwaukee (16-24) at 2:30 p.m. in a Martin Luther King Day game. We're hoping to see a lot of youngsters in the New Orleans Arena stands this afternoon, since all children 12 and under can get in free (details on the coupon you need to take advantage of this offer are on our homepage).
After playing in every game so far this season, reserve guard Bobby Jackson (strained right hamstring) won't play today.
The Bucks have been one of the league's disappointing teams this season. On paper, you look at a team that has All-Star guard Michael Redd, underrated point Mo Williams (who we'll probably chat with about "The Mo Williams Show" today), No. 1 overall pick Andrew Bogut and talents like Charlie Villanueva, and you wonder how they're eight games under .500. Especially in the Eastern Conference.
Usually, though, when a team underperforms like this, you have to look at defense. That definitely appears to be the case with the Bucks, who are allowing 100.7 points per game. For more on Milwaukee, check out Bucks broadcaster Jim Paschke's take on the team he covers in our Rival Report.