Five Observations: Hornets 102, Spurs 78

Saturday, January 26, 2008
By: Jim Eichenhofer, Hornets.com

In a game Hornets TV play-by-play broadcaster Bob Licht described as "one of the best – if not the best – regular season wins in franchise history," New Orleans dominated the second half by a 60-35 margin, throttling the defending champions on their home floor. Wow.

The Hornets upped their current overall and road winning streaks to eight games apiece, while ending an eight-game, head-to-head losing skid vs. the Spurs that dated back to the 2005-06 season. New Orleans (31-12) also prevailed in the Alamo City for the first time during the Byron Scott era.

Scott and Hornets players were all smiles after the surprisingly one-sided win, which enabled New Orleans to add to its lead atop the Western Conference standings. The Hornets also improved to 16-5 on the road this season.

"I think a lot of people were trying to see what type of team we were coming down here," said David West, outstanding during a 32-point individual outing. "We wanted to send a message. We play hard every night, give a lot of effort and energy. That's been paying off for us."

Unlike previous encounters against San Antonio in which the savvy and veteran Spurs made all of the big plays against the Hornets in crunch time, New Orleans put the game out of reach with a huge fourth-quarter surge. "We're older, more mature and growing together every game," West related. "We've got a lot of confidence. We know if we defend we're going to get anything we want on the offensive end and we're capable of making shots."

Five observations from Saturday's 24-point victory at the AT&T Center:

1)So David West doesn't get enough publicity for your liking? What about after a 15-for-19 shooting, 32-point performance in a win on the NBA champs' home floor?
While West was being interviewed by Hornets sideline reporter Jordy Hultberg after the game, Chris Paul briefly interrupted the chat to say this: "If (West) isn't an All-Star, something's wrong!"

West made his strongest argument for inclusion in the midseason showcase to date, repeatedly drilling jumpers from all over the floor. He poured in 20 second-half points, keying the best half of the 2007-08 season for the Hornets. You can debate who should or shouldn't be on the All-Star roster for hours, but if New Orleans finishes the first half of the season with the best record in the Western Conference, it'd be a shame if Paul ends up being the only Hornets All-Star.

2) A budding rivalry?
Since joining the Southwest Division in 2004-05, the Hornets have basically been looked upon as the "little brother" of the five-team group. That is, until now. This was in Saturday's edition of the San Antonio Express-News: "(Previous) visits from the New Orleans Hornets have typically ranked high on any (Spurs) season-ticket holder's list of 'Games to let my neighbor see instead.' Not anymore."

New Orleans is the only member of the Southwest that has not qualified for the playoffs since its creation in 2004-05. The Hornets have been beaten regularly by the Mavericks and Spurs lately, meaning neither Dallas nor San Antonio fans have given New Orleans much thought.

Conversely, over the past three seasons, the Spurs and Mavericks have become even more bitter rivals – if that was possible. The Rockets also have a nice historic rivalry with their Texas-based counterparts. Though the Grizzlies haven't generated much emotion good or bad, they reached the playoffs three straight years from 2004-06.

The Hornets appear to be making some inroads in this category, which is a very good thing. By the way, they led SportsCenter again tonight.

3) A surprise appearance by Hilton Armstrong.
After Tyson Chandler was whistled for two fouls in the initial two minutes Saturday, Scott inserted the second-year pro Armstrong, instead of Melvin Ely. Armstrong, who had been out of the rotation lately, wound up playing 16 minutes. He scored two points, grabbed four rebounds and blocked one shot.

By bringing in Armstrong instead of Ely, Scott was able to maintain his recent rotation off the bench, with Ely, Jannero Pargo and Ryan Bowen all entering at the outset of the second quarter. Incidentally, the bench was one of the few negatives Saturday, going through a seven-minute drought in the second period where they only scored four points.

4) The buzz on… Ryan Bowen.
In home games at the New Orleans Arena, the team's game-presentation staff plays brief music clips over the PA system after specific Hornets score. For example, whenever Melvin Ely drops in a basket, you will hear "Eli's Coming," a song by Three Dog Night. Well, the Hornets uncovered a perfect clip to play after Bowen baskets – the 1970s dance song "Do The Hustle," in a nod to the Iowa product's all-out hustling style of play.

Bowen has an uncanny ability for coming out of nowhere to grab or tip offensive rebounds, keeping Hornets possessions alive. He's also an active defender and has been running the floor extremely well in transition. As a result, he's recently thrown down a few crowd-pleasing dunks. On Saturday, he followed up a Hornets missed layup on a fast break for another slam.

The home fans are starting to take a major liking to Bowen, something the coaching staff had done since Day 1, due to the intangibles he brings to a team. Another plus about Bowen: he doesn't need to score to help the Hornets, meaning you don't have to run plays for him at the offensive end.

5) Recapping a 4-0 week.
The Hornets swept games over Milwaukee, Seattle and well-respected West clubs Portland and San Antonio over the past six days, further legitimizing their conference-best record. New Orleans is now 4-2 against the West's "Big Three" of San Antonio (1-1 vs. Spurs), Dallas (1-1) and Phoenix (2-0), which speaks volumes.

When the Hornets defeated the Mavericks in early December, the win was viewed as a pretty significant upset. When the Hornets clipped the Suns two weeks later, most pointed to the fact that Phoenix and Steve Nash had off nights. When the Hornets prevailed at Phoenix earlier this month, it was perceived to be a stunning result. Maybe we all shouldn't be so surprised anymore, especially after this 24-point rout in San Antonio.



Most anticipated game of 2007-08 tonight?


The Hornets (30-12) will try to extend their winning streak to eight - the franchise's longest since the 2002-03 season - and pick up the first win in San Antonio under Byron Scott at 7:30 p.m. Saturday (pregame on Cox Sports TV is at 7).

The trip to the Alamo City has "statement game" written all over it, particularly after the Hornets were schooled by the Spurs 97-85 on Nov. 9 in New Orleans. The final margin of that game was actually misleading, because the Spurs led by as many as 21 in the second half.

"The three teams that we measure ourselves against are the Spurs, Dallas and Phoenix," Scott said Friday. "They are still the best teams in the West as far as I'm concerned. The Spurs are the best team until someone beats them in the playoffs. We didn't play them very well when they were here early in the season, so we'll see how it is (Saturday)."

A seven-game winning streak at stake. A visit to the home floor of a big division rival. A matchup against one of the two teams who trail the Hornets by one game at the top of the Southwest Division standings.

It's safe to say this shapes up to be anything but a ho-hum NBA regular season game in Texas tonight.