Daniels moves to forefront vs. Bulls tonight

Wednesday, February 4, 2009
By: Jim Eichenhofer, Hornets.com

When New Orleans acquired Antonio Daniels in a Dec. 10 trade with Washington, the move was applauded throughout the NBA. Daniels – the most accomplished backup Chris Paul has had in his four NBA seasons – was badly-needed at the time, partly because Byron Scott had been trying to keep Paul’s minutes relatively manageable, in order to preserve CP3 for the stretch run.

With Paul (right groin strain, day-to-day) injured, the addition of Daniels now looks, as a grinning Scott put it after Tuesday’s practice, “like one of the greatest trades we’ve ever made. We love what Antonio has brought to this team, on and off the court. Now he’s going to be asked to play extended minutes.”

Tonight’s anticipated starting lineup vs. Chicago (7 p.m., New Orleans Arena) would include Daniels, Rasual Butler, Peja Stojakovic, David West and Hilton Armstrong.

Daniels sees his increased role as another challenge, much like many he’s faced frequently in his 12-year, six-team NBA career. When the 33-year-old guard arrived in New Orleans, he emphasized that he was content playing fewer minutes behind one of the NBA’s best point guards, but his playing time is about to spike. The 12.5 minutes he’s averaged as a Hornet are the fewest of his career.

“The biggest adjustment for me right now is that I’ve only been here for a month and a half,” Daniels said. “I’m still in the process of getting used to playing with certain guys and building chemistry with certain guys. It takes time.”

Daniels added that his mentality as a starter compared to coming off the bench will be altered: “As a backup, you have to change the game when you come in. As a starter, you have to run the game, and maintain the game, so to speak. As a backup, you come in for five or six minutes and try to spark the team. As a starter, you have to sustain that level for more minutes.

“I think I have to be more aggressive, regardless. I can’t try to be CP. CP is a special talent. I can’t come in and try to be him, if we’re going to be successful.”

More updates from this morning’s shootaround:

• With Daniels moving into the starting five, Devin Brown is elevated to the backup point guard role. For a stretch in November and December after Mike James’ play led to him being benched, Brown also was the backup 1. “Devin’s been in this position before,” Scott said. “It’s something that’s pretty familiar to him.”

• Scott on Tyson Chandler’s status: “He’s getting close (to returning from his ankle injury). “ Chandler participated in shootaround today; Scott was hopeful that the 7-foot-1 center would be able to practice Thursday, which would move him a step closer to returning. He injured the ankle Jan. 19 vs. Indiana.

• Armstrong is still experiencing knee pain, but remains in the lineup. Scott said when Chandler returns, it’s possible Armstrong could go to the inactive list. “(But) right now, he’s not doing any structural damage to it,” Scott said. “When it hurts, we take him out. We're going to continue to stay with that pattern."

• Bulls shooting guard Ben Gordon presents a second straight difficult matchup on defense for Butler, who did an excellent job on Portland star Brandon Roy in Monday’s game. Scott: “(Butler) has a smaller version of Brandon Roy (tonight). Instead of a 6-6 guy, he’s got a 6-2 guy who can beat you off the dribble, create his own shot and get to the basket. This is another guy (Gordon) who we have to control, because if he gets heated up, he can dominate a game.”

• A grinning Scott, on how outside expectations for the Hornets have dipped lately due to the key injuries: “I was listening to NBA TV last night, and Gary Payton and those guys were saying that we’re dead in the water... All we have to do right now is go out and prove everybody wrong.”

• Upon being asked if his players were anxious to erase the memory of Monday’s fourth-quarter meltdown against Portland, Scott joked, “It would be nice if (Wednesday vs. Chicago) was an afternoon game.” He continued, “everyone wants to get back on the court, because that’s a bad taste in your mouth. Now that the shock that CP is out is over, and we all understand the situation, we want to get on the court and back to playing basketball.”

• Asked by a reporter for best- and worst-case scenarios on Paul’s return, Scott said: “Best-case scenario: Sunday (vs. Minnesota). Worst-case scenario: After the All-Star break. Simple as that.”

Hornets.com postgame: Bulls 107, Hornets 93

An NBA game is 48 minutes in length, so it’s usually a reach to say that a team ever loses one in the first few minutes. But under these circumstances, tonight’s first quarter was extremely damaging for the Hornets. Playing a full game for the first time without Chris Paul (right groin strain), any confidence-building that could’ve potentially happened for shorthanded New Orleans went out the window when Chicago hit shot after shot in the initial few minutes.

The Bulls grabbed a quick lead, putting the Hornets in a hole they could never overcome. Chicago (22-28) piled up 62 first-half points en route to handing New Orleans (28-18) its season-high fourth straight defeat.

After the game, Hornets players blamed their porous first-quarter defensive performance. The Bulls tallied 30 points in the paint in the opening half, including their first 10 of the game. Chicago set the tone with a barrage of dunks and layups, including three slams by Tyrus Thomas before the first timeout.

“We have to get defensive stops,” said Antonio Daniels, Paul’s replacement in the starting five. “We started to (get them in the second half), but by the time we did it was too late… It seemed like everything they shot in the first half went in.”

“We just didn’t show up defensively in that first quarter and first half,” said David West (24 points, 14 rebounds). “We weren’t helping one another. We didn’t set the right type of tone coming right out of the gate.”

The CP3-less Hornets offense was a mixed bag tonight – West and Peja Stojakovic (24 points, 7 rebounds) knew they’d have to increase their production, and did. The remainder of the roster struggled though, resulting in 36 percent shooting overall by New Orleans.

“It’s asking too much and putting too much pressure on David West to just throw it down to him inside, and asking him to take us home,” Daniels said, addressing the lack of production from role players tonight. “That’s not fair to him. He’s an All-Star player, but we have to be there to support him.”

“We’ve got a bunch of guys who need to step up,” Byron Scott said. “David and Peja did a heck of a job, but Hilton (Armstrong) and Melvin (Ely) need to do a much better job. I thought that was a big hole tonight. Neither of those guys gave us anything on either end of the floor. Rasual has to make shots. That’s putting pressure on those guys, but that’s their job.

“(James Posey) has to get back into a rhythm; I loved what Ryan Bowen was doing; and I thought Julian (Wright) played hard. We’ve got a lot of little holes to fill.”

As Scott mentioned this morning, many observers around the league are anticipating a New Orleans collapse as long as the runner–up in the 2007-08 league MVP voting is sidelined. Daniels said he’s heard the skepticism and is focused on trying to prove that the Hornets can compete without Paul.

“We have enough in this locker room to get the job done; we just have to find a way to get it done,” Daniels said. “A lot of us in this locker room, from myself, to Rasual, to Mo Pete, to Ryan Bowen, to Devin Brown, we’ve always heard, ‘You can’t.’

“We’re hearing the same thing now, that we can’t get the job done and we don’t have enough. I know for myself and other guys, that just serves as motivation for all of us. I wish we played tomorrow.”