Two days after a victory in San Antonio that was described by many as one of the finest in franchise history, you may have expected an emotional letdown or perhaps a small drop-off in play from the Hornets. Think again.
New Orleans extended its winning streak to nine games with a punishing performance against Denver, building a huge early lead and prevailing by 24.
New Orleans (32-12) is now just one win shy of the franchise record for longest winning streak, has won seven in a row on its home floor and is 12-1 in January.
If you're a Hornets fan and decided to come to the New Orleans Arena for this game, you couldn't have asked for much more in entertainment value.
How about a near triple-double from Chris Paul? Paul finished with 23 points, 17 assists and nine rebounds.
How about an "M-V-P! M-V-P!" chant for the 6-foot point guard, the first of the season?
How about 13 dunks by the Hornets, including one slam by Paul and three from Julian Wright in only six minutes of playing time for Wright?
New Orleans added to its lead atop the Western Conference standings and maintained a one-game edge over Dallas in the Southwest Division.
"The biggest reason (for the success of the Hornets) has been that our bench has played much better," Hornets head coach Byron Scott said. "Our starters have been fantastic all season, but when our bench plays as well our starting five, we're going to be tough to beat."
Five observations from the 24-point win:
1) The MVP chant.
Paul was asked in the locker room for his reaction to the crowd of 15,000-plus loudly chanting "M-V-P!" as he shot free throws in the third quarter. In typical selfless fashion from a guy who racked up 17 assists Monday, CP3 deflected the chant to two of his teammates, saying: "I think (the fans) were exactly right. I think David West and Tyson could be MVPs."
Scott on Paul's potential to be the league's MVP: "He should be mentioned in that category, when they start talking about MVP candidates. For what he's been able to achieve, for how he's played and how we've played as a team. You have to give him some recognition for that award."
2) Bench problems? What bench problems?
Without a doubt, New Orleans' biggest weakness through the first two months of the season had been its poorly-performing bench. Lately though, the reserves have been playing infinitely better, partly sparked by the return from injuries of Ryan Bowen and Melvin Ely. In Monday's game, the subs were a combined 22-for-39 from the field for 47 points.
"At the beginning, I don't think they were playing as hard as they've been playing (recently)," Scott said of the bench's improvement. "I think the fact that we started making some changes obviously got everyone's attention. Since then everyone's been playing well."
Melvin Ely tallied a season-best 16 points, thriving on low-post hook shots, while Jannero Pargo had 13 points. Ryan Bowen poured in eight points and continued to do a lot of the dirty work that has made him a key member of the second string.
3) Battle of All-Star center candidates is one-sided.
Both Tyson Chandler and Marcus Camby have been discussed as potential All-Stars in the West, but Camby definitely has been mentioned more often than Chandler. In Monday's head-to-head matchup, Chandler held a severe upper hand, with 10 points and 16 rebounds. Camby had one of his poorest games of the season, including three points and five rebounds.
4) Playoffs?! Playoffs?!
At this point in the season with the Hornets 20 games over .500, it's almost insulting to bring up making the playoffs, kind of like a reverse of the infamous Jim Mora press conference that has been spotlighted during those humorous Coors Light commercials. Obviously when you're the No. 1 team in the conference past the halfway point of the regular season, there aren't too many people concerned about whether you are going to be in the postseason.
However, to understand how far this team has come in three months, you have to remember that back in October, the team's primary objective was to end a playoff drought that dates back to 2004. After being in the hunt each of the past two seasons but coming up short, Hornets players were very hungry to break through to the postseason. Honestly, everything after that was more or less a bonus. No one talked about "getting to the West semifinals" or anything like that. It was getting to the playoffs, point blank.
Incidentally, if you're wondering what number of wins will safely get the Hornets or any NBA team in the playoffs, here's an interesting stat: No team in the decade of the 2000s has ever finished with 46 wins or more and NOT made the playoffs. The 2000-01 Houston club's 45 victories is the most by a non-postseason qualifier over the past eight 82-game regular seasons (1998-99 was an abbreviated 50-game season due to a lockout).
5) An interesting piece of NBA history made Monday by the marauding Hornets.
No stat illustrates how much New Orleans has destroyed its opposition lately than this one, courtesy of Hornets communications manager Dennis Rogers: In the history of the NBA, the Hornets are now the second team ever to win seven straight games by a margin of 14 points or more in each triumph.
The 2003-04 Pistons, who went on to win the NBA title that year, won eight games in a row by 14 points or more. That's it. That's the only team with a longer streak of doing this than New Orleans' current run.
Even the 1971-72 Lakers, who won an amazing league-record 33 games in a row, never had a streak of more than five wins that were by a margin of 14 points or more.
In fact, only four other teams in league annals have put together a 14-point margin streak of six straight games (the aforementioned 2003-04 Pistons, the 1996-97 Bulls, the 1989-90 Suns and the 1988-89 Cavaliers).