If there is such a thing as a moral victory in the NBA, this may have been the best example you will see. Playing without second-leading scorer David West (ankle), in the second game of a back-to-back, in a venue where they were humbled three times during the 2009 playoffs, the Hornets (23-20) took the Nuggets (29-14) to overtime, where Denver finally asserted control.
From a big-picture standpoint, if New Orleans reaches the 2010 Western Conference playoffs, it's fairly reasonable to think the Hornets will be a No. 5 through 8 seed, meaning they would begin the postseason on the road. Given that possibility, New Orleans needs to show more competitiveness in away games against high-caliber opponents than it has so far.
Had the Hornets prevailed tonight, it could've easily been called the best victory of 2009-10, but they instead had to settle for going toe-to-toe with a Nuggets squad that will likely win its division and end up as a top-three seed in the West.
New Orleans' road schedule has been considerably softer recently than it was early in the season; this was the first away game for the Hornets against a current above-.500 foe since Jan. 6 at Oklahoma City. Over the first seven such instances to start 2009-10, NOLA lost all of them, including six times by double digits (the lone exception was a one-point defeat in Miami).
Darius Songaila did an exemplary job filling in at starting power forward for West. Songaila easily exceeded his top scoring game in his first season as a Hornet, pouring in 20 points. You couldn't help but think how much having a 4 with his ability to make open shots would've helped against this same Denver team in the '09 playoffs.
HORNETS POSTGAME QUOTES (courtesy Denver Nuggets)
Jeff Bower Hornets Head Coach
I think we really competed extremely hard. Darius Songaila had a very difficult assignment tonight and he came through terrific for us in effort, execution both offensively and defensively. Its kind of what these guys have done for most of the year; they have really competed, battled and played extremely hard. Even when we havent played well we have played pretty hard for the most part. We had our chances in regulation; it was going to be hard to win in overtime. (Rebounding differential) It was hard to overcome. It is a big part of why we ended up losing tonight. As big of a differential as it is it converted into 15 points and they only had a plus six advantage in that area, so that might be part of how we were able to hang around. We had our hands full with this team tonight. From the stand point that that is one of their strengths. They rebound on the move, as far as slashing and running to the rebound. We were a little shorthanded tonight without David West.
Chris Paul Hornets Guard
We come out scoring, playing a little defense. Even if our defense isnt quick enough we have been able to match guys point total, so we are getting a little more aggressive, getting to the line a little more. That is helping us out a lot. We have to be aggressive. We have to show the refs that we are going to be aggressive, so we can get some of those calls. (West missing) In basketball you see it all the time when a guy is out a different guys step up. All the guys step up and get our team.
Peja Stojakovic - Hornets Forward
We gave ourselves a chance even without David. We were right there. We just didnt have enough. (Back-to-backs what is most impressive) Being patient and focused in crucial moments, making stops at the end of the game. Just understanding each other better on the court.