Hornets.com postgame: Hornets 86, Jazz 80

Monday, February 13, 2012
By: Jim Eichenhofer, Hornets.com

Hornets (5-23), Jazz (14-13)

It was over when… Chris Kaman cleared a defensive rebound off a Utah close-range miss and passed ahead to Trevor Ariza, who dribbled out the remaining few seconds with the Hornets protecting a six-point lead. New Orleans ended its eight-game losing streak, winning for the first time since Jan. 27 against Orlando. The victory was much-needed, especially given that the Hornets will head out tomorrow for a five-game road trip that precedes the All-Star break.

Hornets MVP: Three days after he sat out the Portland loss with an ankle sprain, Kaman played his best game as a Hornet, with 27 points and 13 rebounds, including six offensive boards. He was 12-for-22 from the field. Kaman said he wasn’t sure if he was going to play as recently as this morning’s shootaround, but knew the Hornets needed him when he learned that fellow center Emeka Okafor (sore left knee) would miss the game.

Hornets Sixth Man of the Game: Al-Farouq Aminu’s stats did not jump off the page (four points, one rebound), but his defensive contributions led to him logging 25 minutes of playing time. He contributed two blocks and a steal to help NOLA hold Utah to just 41.1 percent shooting from the field and cough up 20 turnovers.

The buzz on… the relief of bringing the recent frustration to an end. Since starting the season 2-0, the Hornets have gone through a stretch of rampant losing that has been marked by widespread injuries and a slew of narrow defeats. That combination made Monday’s victory particularly gratifying, especially after things got dicey again in the fourth quarter following a Utah rally. Monty Williams: “Our guys have continued to fight and they do it for each other; they do it for the fans. I just think they are a unit that has been through a lot and we will not use any of that as an excuse. If you would have told us that Emeka (Okafor) would be out tonight, along with Jarrett (Jack) and Jason (Smith); all the guys that we had out, I think this point of effort from guys like Lance (Thomas) and Donald Sloan. Chris Kaman was really huge tonight; his scoring, his rebounding, his leadership, and talking in the huddles. I’ve never seen him do that. It does feel good.” Ariza said having Saturday off to get away from basketball helped the team be fresher mentally. “It definitely helps you out, especially when you’re going through tough times," he said. "It feels great to win. Hopefully this will carry over into (Wednesday).”

Shootaround: Feb. 13 vs. Jazz

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

• Emeka Okafor is the only New Orleans player who has started all 27 games this season, but with the team’s injury bug approaching staggering levels, he too may miss tonight’s game due to a sore left knee. He is being listed as questionable. The ultra-durable Okafor had a streak of 306 consecutive games played end last season, but he’s been on the floor every night in 2011-12. Okafor, Marco Belinelli, Greivis Vasquez and Al-Farouq Aminu are the only season-long Hornets who have not missed any games.

• If both Okafor and Chris Kaman (questionable, sprained left ankle) are unable to play, Monty Williams said he will shift starter Gustavo Ayon to center. In that scenario, Aminu would move into the starting lineup as the power forward. The starters at the 1 through 3 positions will remain Vasquez, Belinelli and Trevor Ariza, respectively. If Okafor and Kaman can’t play, New Orleans will only have eight available players, the minimum required by the NBA to begin a game.

• While he was an assistant coach with Portland, Williams experienced several situations in which the injury-plagued Trail Blazers were shorthanded, with fewer than 10 players available. One adjustment NBA teams can make – in order to reduce potential foul trouble – is to use more zone defenses. However, that tactic may be somewhat problematic for the Hornets, according to Williams. “We may zone some more than we normally would,” he said. “But it’s hard to zone with our team, because we have so many new guys. I thought our zone was pretty good last season; this year it’s hard because guys don’t know the rotations out of zone. And Utah is a tough team to zone because they rebound so well.”

• Utah (14-12) is playing the middle game of a back-to-back-to-back tonight. The Jazz won at Memphis on Sunday and will travel to Oklahoma City for a game Tuesday. “I don’t think it’s going to bother them too much because they have (multiple players) at three or four positions,” Williams assessed. “They have five bigs and a number of wings, (plus) veteran leadership.”

• Vasquez on backup point guard Donald Sloan’s debut Friday vs. Portland: “He played hard. He didn’t have any practice at all, but he went out and played well. He’s a really good player.” In 11 minutes, Sloan scored seven points and handed out two assists.