Hornets slip but remain in top five of rankings

Tuesday, February 5, 2008
By: Jim Eichenhofer, Hornets.com

New Orleans ascended to the No. 1 spot in every national power poll we surveyed last week. Seven days and three defeats later, the Hornets predictably dropped across the board, but are still ranked in the top five by each website.

Time for our Tuesday look at where the Hornets rank among the 30 NBA teams in the polls:

NBA.com (3rd, down 2 spots): “After winning nine straight and taking over the top spot, the Hornets have dropped two in a row, two of their worst defensive performances of the season. And with games in Utah and Phoenix up next, they're in danger of slipping a few spots in the West.”
Hornets.com says: There’s not a lot of margin for error in the West. Entering Tuesday night’s games, New Orleans is only five games ahead of the conference’s ninth-place club, Portland (27-20). The current No. 6 seed, San Antonio (29-16), is just two back of the Hornets.

ESPN.com (3rd, down 2 spots): “Go ahead. We know nothing we can say will convince you otherwise, so blame us for jinxing the Hornets by bumping them up to No. 1 for the first time since the committee (of one) took over these rankings in 2002-03.”
Hornets.com says: I don’t know about a jinx. It makes more sense to blame a difficult week schedule-wise and the fact that New Orleans simply has not played well since last Monday’s domination of Denver.

SI.com (4th, down 3 spots): “Losses to the Warriors and Kings have brought them back to earth after a nine-game winning streak. At least coach Byron Scott and forward David West will join Chris Paul as hometown Hornets in the All-Star Game.”
Hornets.com says: Going into this season, no one thought Scott had a chance to coach the West in the 2008 All-Star Game. No one. I don’t think many are real surprised about Paul elevating his game to All-Star status in Year 3, but West reaching that level has been one of the best developments of the first half of this Hornets season.

Dime Magazine (6th, down 5 spots): “Their reign at the top was short like leprechauns. Last week’s No. 1 team went out and lost three straight since our last Hit List, giving up an average of 112 points per loss.”
Hornets.com says: Defensive slippage has been the primary problem during the three-game losing streak. Of course, it’s probably worth pointing out that the three opponents are all in the top 10 in the NBA in scoring average – Golden State (first), Utah (fifth) and Sacramento (ninth).

CBS Sportsline (5th, down 4 spots): “Because a few bigger names were left out, David West has been the recipient of unmerited criticism over his inclusion on the Western Conference All-Star team. While the players who failed to make it have every right to feel like they did enough to earn a nod, to take their exclusion out on West by saying he got a hometown call isn’t right. He deserved the berth.”
Hornets.com says: There are several other guys who could make a case, but at the time of the voting, West was the second-most valuable player on the No. 1 team in the conference. That probably swayed several coaches over some of the candidates who have flashier stats but haven’t had as much team success in 2007-08.

SportingNews.com (2nd, down 1 spot): “Their perch atop the West is precarious with next three at Sacramento, Utah and Phoenix. Congrats to Byron Scott, who has secured the job of coaching the Western Conference All-Stars.”
Hornets.com says: Unlike each of the other polls, Sporting News posts its rundown on Fridays. They seemed to forewarn readers that the Hornets’ schedule was about to get awfully tough, and they were right. Sacramento is back at full strength and playing well, while Utah is the NBA’s hottest team with nine straight wins.

Five Observations: Jazz 110, Hornets 88

New Orleans (32-15) sustained its third consecutive defeat Monday, falling behind by 20 points through three quarters to Utah, which upped its current NBA-best winning streak to nine. For a second straight game on the road, the Hornets’ defense had too many holes, allowing the Jazz to shoot 50.6 percent from the field. Utah also connected on 14 of 22 three-pointers, a franchise record for made trifectas in a single game.

The Hornets also severely hurt their chances of prevailing against a red-hot opponent by committing 19 turnovers. Five observations after a 22-point defeat at EnergySolutions Arena:

1) Salt Lake City again no fun for Hornets.
That’s two trips to the state of Utah this season, and two of the ugliest and most frustrating losses of the campaign for New Orleans. You could argue that of the Hornets’ three or so worst-played games of 2007-08, two of them took place on the Jazz’s home floor. On Nov. 23, Utah pounded New Orleans by a 99-71 margin. Utah may have started poorly this season, but I’d be very surprised if they don’t end up winning a second straight Northwest Division title. The Jazz have better chemistry than division rival Denver, and much more experience than up-and-coming Portland. It seems like bigger squads like Utah and San Antonio give New Orleans more trouble than up-tempo opponents such as Phoenix. This Hornets-Jazz matchup has the makings of a tremendous rivalry in the West for years to come, particularly with Chris Paul and Deron Williams going head-to-head from the same 2005 NBA Draft class.

2) The All-Star “snub” makes a statement.
Does Deron Williams deserve to be on the West All-Star team? Sure, but there are four or five other guys in the West who didn’t make the roster but have roughly as good a case for inclusion as Williams. There are only 12 spots available, but about 16 or 17 players who are having what you might consider All-Star-caliber seasons. Playing against his close friend Chris Paul on Monday, Williams scored a decisive victory in the battle of third-year point guards. The Illinois product poured in 29 points and handed out 11 assists; Utah was plus-18 with him on the floor. Meanwhile, CP3 had arguably his worst game of 2007-08, with six points and six assists, including 3-for-11 shooting. The Hornets were minus-23 with Paul on the court.

3) Boozer prevails in All-Star matchup at power forward.
Utah’s Carlos Boozer and New Orleans’ David West both made the All-Star squad, with Boozer being the lone Jazz player to do so. The Duke alum held a significant upper hand over West, piling up 19 points and 17 rebounds, providing the inside toughness for Utah that complemented its scorching-hot perimeter shooting nicely. Meanwhile, West was limited to four rebounds and 12 points on 4-for-12 shooting.

4) The buzz on… Jannero Pargo.
It’s too bad the Hornets couldn’t stay within shouting distance of the Jazz, because their huge deficit meant a fantastic individual shooting performance by Pargo in the second half went for naught. The 6-foot-1 combo guard produced one of his patented unconscious stretches Monday after intermission, as he piled up 22 points in the second half alone, including three treys. Pargo equaled his season-high in scoring by registering a team-best 24 points. Once again, Pargo demonstrated the unique skill he has for putting up points in bunches, even if he hasn’t played a whole lot earlier in the night.

5) The buzz on… Morris Peterson.
When Mo Pete was an unrestricted free agent last summer and his final two choices were Utah and New Orleans, many observers believed the Jazz might hold the upper hand because they were much closer to an NBA title than the Hornets. After all, Utah reached the 2007 Western Conference finals, while New Orleans hasn’t made the playoffs since 2004. The gap between the two clubs has obviously narrowed considerably since then, with the Hornets actually two games better than the Jazz in the current standings.

Peterson had one of his better games of 2007-08 on Monday against the team that finished as a runner-up in his free-agent “derby,” scoring 16 points and going 4-for-6 on three-pointers. The Michigan State product was the only Hornets starter who had an above-average game.