Five Observations: Rockets 100, Hornets 80

Friday, February 22, 2008
By: Jim Eichenhofer, Hornets.com

While everyone waited for the Hornets’ trade with the Rockets to be made official by the NBA, Bonzi Wells and Mike James were forced to watch Friday’s home game vs. Houston from the sideline. What they saw from their new teammates wasn’t pretty.

After a relatively tight opening period, Houston dominated, building a lead of as many as 26 points in the third quarter. New Orleans suffered through one of its worst offensive nights of the season and couldn’t consistently stop the Rockets, either.

As a result, Houston (35-20) posted its 11th consecutive victory, while New Orleans (37-16) saw its five-game winning streak come to an end. Tracy McGrady spearheaded Houston as it set a franchise record for consecutive road wins at nine, pouring in 34 points on 14-for-26 shooting.

Five observations from a 20-point defeat at the New Orleans Arena:

1) The buzz on… Bonzi Wells.
The 10-year veteran immediately becomes the bench’s most effective and reliable scoring threat. On a second unit that relies heavily on jump-shooters like Jannero Pargo and Rasual Butler, Wells gives the backups a go-to guy in the post who can also make mid-range shots. He often uses his 6-foot-5, 210-pound frame to overpower defenders and get to the basket. He’s never been a very consistent deep shooter and fires a knuckleball-type shot (at 32.6 percent from three-point range, he usually shies away from treys), but when he gets rolling, he can make 18- to 20-footers, making him a multi-dimensional threat.

Keep in mind he averaged double-digit scoring for seven straight seasons; the main thing that’s kept his stats modest lately has been a reduction in minutes in Houston. Perhaps most impressively – and most comparably to the role he may serve here – in 2004-05 with Memphis, Wells averaged 10.4 points in only 21.6 minutes per night. If he puts up those kinds of numbers over the last 30 games, it would be an immense boost for the bench.

Also, if you’re wondering if Wells could take Morris Peterson’s place in the starting lineup at shooting guard, Byron Scott downplayed that possibility Friday, saying he probably wouldn’t even consider that option until Wells has played 20-25 games with the Hornets. By then, it will be late March or April.

2) The buzz on… Mike James.
One of the knocks on the seven-year pro is that he has been too shot-happy for a point guard. However, one of the reasons Scott is enthusiastic about James’ arrival is that he has vastly more experience than Jannero Pargo at running an offense. Scott said James is a better decision-maker and more proficient at setting up teammates, which is not surprising considering James has played the 1 almost exclusively in his NBA career. Even during his huge individual 2005-06 season with Toronto, the 6-foot-2 James started all 79 games in which he appeared at the point.

Ideally, James would settle into the role he played on Detroit’s 2004 NBA title team, as a defensive stopper who can provide offensive punch on an as-needed basis. James will need to up his shooting percentage considerably in his new uniform; he’s at a near career-low 35.0 from the field in 2007-08.

3) The buzz on… Rasual Butler.
Scott was asked by reporters before the game what affect the addition of Wells would have on Butler’s minutes and role. Scott responded that he doesn’t necessarily see Butler playing less, but the position(s) he plays may be altered. But if Wells plays even close to the level he’s performed at throughout his career, he will be New Orleans’ top reserve, meaning minutes for others at the two and three spots almost have to be reduced. This recent handful of games is the most Butler has played basically all season.

4) Seven-footer battle goes to Houston.
The 7-foot-6 Yao Ming turned in a monster performance Friday, racking up 28 points and 14 rebounds. He significantly outplayed the 7-1 Chandler, who netted nine points and nine rebounds. Chandler only had four points and two rebounds in the first half.

5) Big test in San Antonio.
On paper, Saturday’s trip to the Alamo City has all the makings of a difficult road game. The Hornets will be playing the second of back-to-back games, while the Spurs were off tonight. San Antonio also may have a slight motivational advantage after New Orleans handed the Spurs one of their worst home defeats in recent memory on Jan. 26.