Hornets.com postgame: Suns 120, Hornets 103

Wednesday, February 1, 2012
By: Jim Eichenhofer, Hornets.com

Suns (8-13), Hornets (4-18)

It was over when… Steve Nash drained a stepback jumper from the top of the key, putting Phoenix in front 112-96 with 3:04 remaining. The Suns held a narrow 95-94 lead before going on a 17-2 run to take command in the fourth quarter. Despite their best offensive performance points-wise of 2011-12, the Hornets lost their third straight game. New Orleans shot 59.5 percent from the field in the first half, but could not sustain it after intermission.

Hornets MVP: It was a tough call between Jason Smith (16 points, 8-for-9 shooting, three blocks) and Greivis Vasquez (20 points, 12 assists), but I’ll agree with the in-arena award and give a slight edge to Smith. Reason? He did most of his damage in the first three quarters, when the Hornets played the Suns evenly. Phoenix dominated the final period 32-16.

Hornets Sixth Man of the Game: With 20 points and 12 assists, Vasquez became the first Hornets reserve since Dell Curry in 1992 to register more than 15 points and 10 assists in a single game. Vasquez played some role in the nearly the entire fourth-quarter offense for New Orleans, tallying nine points and handing out two assists.

The buzz on… the most points scored by the Hornets this season, but also the most points they’ve allowed this season. Although the Suns are not nearly as high-scoring of a team as they’ve been in the past several years, there’s no doubt that they’d prefer an up-tempo game much more than the Hornets. So when both teams were on pace to get into the 110s at halftime (59-56 Hornets), it was not a good sign for New Orleans. This was a completely uncharacteristic Hornets game during the first third of 2011-12, only the second time both teams have reached the century mark and just the sixth time an opponent did so. “We’re known for our defense and we like to preach defense a lot,” Smith said, before alluding to the first half. “We traded baskets with them. We cannot give any team 56 points in a half. We were scoring the ball and got everything we wanted on offense, but we could not trade baskets with them. We had to take a stand, and we didn’t do that.”

Shootaround: Feb. 1 vs. Suns

Updates from this morning’s shootaround in the New Orleans Arena:

• New Orleans is averaging just 87.4 points per game, which ranks 28th in the NBA. One issue Hornets players have frequently mentioned is their inability to capitalize on fast-break opportunities. In too many cases, the Hornets have a 3-on-2 or 2-on-1 transition chance but come away without a basket or even free throws. Monty Williams said he’s stressing to players that spacing is crucial – they need to fill wider lanes on fast breaks, which makes it more difficult for the defense to cover a larger area. In several instances, players have been too close together while running the floor. With the Hornets shooting only 27.7 percent from three-point range (ranking 30th in league), it’s even more important that players think “layup” or “dunk” in transition, instead of pulling up for trey attempts.

• Fans and analysts have taken note of a recent tendency by the Hornets to get too late into the 24-second shot clock, then having to fire up a low-percentage attempt. Williams said part of the problem is having so many new players this season who’ve never played together, meaning he needs to simplify the offense to try to make it run more efficiently. The Hornets also have a “20-second rule” in which their goal is to advance the ball across the halfcourt line before the shot clock gets to 20. Doing so allows for a maximum amount of time to run a play and its secondary variations.

• Suns small forward Grant Hill (born Oct. 5, 1972) is almost exactly one year younger than Williams (Oct. 8, 1971), causing Williams to marvel that Hill is still an above-average athlete at 39. “Grant is the glue for that team,” Williams credited of his friend and former Orlando teammate. “He does a number of things that may not show up in the box score. (His longevity) he would admit, a ton of it is from some of the things they’ve done with their training staff. We’ve tried to implement a lot of that here. (Hornets trainer Jon Ishop) does a lot of that kind of stuff here – I think that’s why you saw Chris (Paul) have the kind of year he had coming off of surgery. He didn’t miss a game last year because of his knee. But Grant is genetically freaky also. When your dad is a pro football player (Calvin Hill was a running back for the Dallas Cowboys), you’ve been blessed.”