Hornets.com postgame: Hornets 102, Nets 92

Wednesday, January 21, 2009
By: Jim Eichenhofer, Hornets.com

With two starters and the team’s primary frontcourt sub sidelined, Hornets players know they’re each going to have do whatever it takes to compensate for the absence of David West, Tyson Chandler and Hilton Armstrong. Even if it means taking a kick to the face from an opposing player.

That’s what happened to Chandler’s replacement at starting center, Melvin Ely, as Ely attempted a layup in the fourth quarter. Somehow, a New Jersey player’s sneaker accidentally ended up striking Ely’s cheek, as Ely’s close-range shot was rejected. Fortunately, the incident did not add to the team’s growing list of frontcourt injuries – Ely was fine.

“Yeah, I got kicked in the face,” a smiling Ely related in the locker room after the game. “But it was OK. We won. I will take a couple more kicks to the face, if we can keep winning.”

That’s the spirit, Mel.

New Orleans (26-13) was down to just 11 healthy players prior to signing free agent Anthony Tolliver a couple hours before tip-off. The Hornets started slowly in the game, falling behind by as many as nine points, but used a big third quarter to overtake the Nets (19-23). Chris Paul delivered an MVP-like performance, compiling 27 points, nine rebounds and eight assists.

“It’s a great win for us,” Paul said. “Guys had an opportunity to step up and that’s what they did.”

The three Hornets who were forced into larger roles due to the injury absences were Ely (30 minutes), Julian Wright (26 minutes), Sean Marks (26 minutes).

Ely had a rough time finishing around the basket, going 3-for-12 from the field, but Wright turned in a season-high 11 points and six rebounds. Marks played better than his initial start Monday, this time tallying five points and three boards.

“Julian played some valuable minutes for us tonight,” Paul said. “We needed that. (Players have gone) from not playing at all to starting and playing 30 minutes. You just try to get those jitters out of them and let them know they’re professionals and have to step up.”

Paul ended up playing “only” 38 minutes, less than many might have expected given the shorthanded nature of the roster. “I told (Byron Scott) that I could play all 48 minutes, I could,” Paul said. “But the bench has doing an outstanding job. (Antonio Daniels) has been coming in the game and picking up right where I left off.”

West, Chandler not expected to play vs. Nets

Tonight's home game vs. New Jersey (19-22) could be one of the more interesting watches of the season for the Hornets (25-13), who will likely be without power forward David West (back spasms) and Tyson Chandler (sprained left ankle). They may be joined on the sideline by another New Orleans frontcourt player, Hilton Armstrong (knee).

“Both of those guys are very doubtful for tonight’s game," Hornets coach Byron Scott said at shootaround this morning. "Hilton is a question mark right now (to play)."

As a result of those projected absences, there would be a ripple effect that would alter the starting lineup and give several players a prime opportunity to play more minutes.

Scott said if all three are not available, the starting lineup vs. the Nets will be Chris Paul, Rasual Butler, Peja Stojakovic, Sean Marks and Melvin Ely. At this point, it remains uncertain how long West and Chandler may be out of action.

"David could probably (return) early next week," Scott said. "Maybe Monday (vs. Philadelphia). With Tyson, obviously the sprain looked very bad. I’m not going to speculate on a timeframe."

Meanwhile, Armstrong was getting treatment while Scott spoke but was expected to participate in shootaround.

"We’re just trying to get him ready," Scott said of the third-year pro. "Hopefully tonight he’ll feel better and we’ll see what happens."

Scott added that Armstrong has had tendinitis in his knee over the past week that may have flared up during Monday's game.

Scott provided plenty of other interesting tidbits during his five-minute talk with the media this morning. Here are a few other pieces of news from Scott’s discussion:

• For fans who have been clamoring to see more of Julian Wright – many in the home crowd gave “JuJu” a standing ovation when he entered Monday’s game – this could be a golden opportunity for the second-year forward. “He’s definitely going to get an opportunity,” Scott said of the Kansas product. “And it’s going to be up to him to take advantage of it. I thought the last game he came in and did one real good thing,” Scott continued, referring to Wright's mid-range basket on his first touch. “Then he shot... I don’t know what it was, the second time he caught the ball. But that’s the thing we’ve been talking about: (making) good decisions. He’s going to get a chance. He just has to understand to play within himself, but also be relaxed and don’t try to make the home-run play every time.”

• Obviously if the three big men who receive the most minutes at power forward and center can’t play, that means the Hornets will be forced to utilize shorter lineups with an emphasis on quickness. Chandler is 7-1, Armstrong is 6-11 and West is 6-9. “We’re going to have a real small lineup,” Scott said. “It will be one of those games where we have (potentially) 10 guys on that bench, and probably all 10 guys will play. We’re going to look to throw guys out there to see if we can find some type of continuity and advantage at certain positions. We’ll play small a lot probably and mix things up on defense with both man-to-man and zone.”

• Speaking of players who are getting more of a chance to play due to others’ injuries, Sean Marks’ emergency start Monday vs. Indiana was his first NBA start since the 2001-02 season. He did not respond well, making a few mistakes that caused many in the New Orleans Arena crowd to boo. That was the first time in my four years covering the Hornets that I can recall hearing Hornets fans vehemently booing one of their own players.

Here was Scott’s take on Marks’ Monday performance: “I thought he was so nervous. (But) you know what? The fans have to give the man a chance, first of all. Relax. Golly.

“Let the man come out and try to play. It’s not like he’s going out there and trying to mess up on purpose. He just missed shots. He didn’t do a bad job on the defensive end. And he has to have a deaf ear. He can’t listen to what people are yelling or screaming. It was 9 1/2 minutes left in the first quarter, and I heard (a fan) say, ‘take him out!’

“I mean, we were 2 1/2 minutes into the game. We’re not going to lose the game in the first 2 1/2 minutes.

“Hopefully tonight he’s a little bit more comfortable. From my standpoint, I want him to understand that I have confidence in him, and I want him to just go out and play.”

• Don’t expect James Posey to move into the starting lineup, despite the likely absences of West and Chandler. Scott wants to keep the supersub in his role as a reserve. “I don’t want to,” Scott said, when asked by a reporter if he might start Posey. “Not at all. If I start anybody, it would probably be Julian before Posey. I want Posey to continue to come off the bench for us. Right now, I haven’t even thought about (Posey starting). Coming off the bench for us, he suits us extremely well.”