Five Observations: Spurs 98, Hornets 89

Saturday, February 23, 2008
By: Jim Eichenhofer,

New Orleans rallied all the way back from a 15-point halftime deficit, but San Antonio’s 18-6 fourth-quarter run enabled the Spurs (37-17) to prevail and move into a first-place tie with the Hornets (37-17) atop the Southwest Division standings. San Antonio also gained a 2-1 advantage in the season series.

The Hornets shot an abysmal 25 percent from the field in the opening half Saturday, resulting in a 50-35 intermission hole. New Orleans played much better in the latter half, pulling into a 78-all deadlock with 7:05 remaining. From there, San Antonio made countless big baskets, particularly by Manu Ginobili (30 points), to regain control.

Chris Paul led New Orleans with 27 points, while David West added 16.

Five observations from the nine-point loss at the AT&T Center:

1) Bonzi Wells struggles in Hornets debut.
The biggest name exchanged in Thursday’s three-team trade went 1-for-7 from the field, had three turnovers and was whistled for a technical foul after referees thought he made unnecessary contact with Ginobili while the Spurs guard was taking a mid-range shot.

It looked like the 6-foot-5 shooting guard was a bit uncomfortable at times, which is probably not unexpected considering he hasn’t gotten to practice with his new team yet. Once he settles in his ability to draw contact and get to the foul line should help the second-unit offense. He scored his first basket on a 20-footer in the second quarter.

2) Mike James turns in decent outing in Game 1.
The point guard drilled a three-pointer in the second period and scored on a nifty driving floater through the lane in the fourth, a big bucket that tied the game at 78. He finished 2-for-3 from the floor for five points, and grabbed one rebound. Other than that, there wasn’t a lot to report from his 16 minutes on the floor. Incidentally, Wells and James played the most minutes of New Orleans’ five reserves.

3) The buzz on… Morris Peterson.
Twenty-four hours after Scott indicated to reporters that he wouldn’t consider moving Wells into the starting lineup in place of Peterson for at least a few weeks, he told Hornets TV sideline reporter Jordy Hultberg that Peterson is on a “short leash." Scott said that moving Peterson out of the first string is something that could happen in the next week if the 6-foot-7, 220-pounder doesn’t improve his performance.

Scott has discussed the shooting guard’s need to improve his field-goal accuracy, which had dipped below 40 percent prior to Saturday’s game. The coach said the Michigan State product needs to exhibit better shot selection, including taking the ball to the basket more frequently, instead of settling for perimeter attempts.

Peterson had a nine-point game Saturday, including three three-pointers. He again was not on the court during crunch time, with Wells or James joining the other four starters.

4) Do Hornets not match up well vs. “physical” teams?
New Orleans is now 0-2 vs. Utah, 1-2 vs. San Antonio and 1-1 vs. Houston this season, but 3-0 vs. Phoenix, 2-1 vs. Dallas and 2-1 vs. Denver.

The first group of teams has often been described as “physical" or hard-nosed. Is that the reason why New Orleans hasn’t fared well against them? I think it’s more accurate to say that the Hornets are more apt to struggle against very good defensive teams. The common thread in the losses to the Jazz, Spurs and Rockets – come to think of it, even the WIN over the Rockets – has been that New Orleans’ offense has sputtered considerably.

Friday was a great example of an opponent not allowing the Hornets any easy baskets, but willing to let them rely on perimeter shots. When New Orleans isn’t connecting from the outside, as it wasn’t vs. Houston, the chances of the Hornets being held under 90 points seems to be pretty good. Against the teams that generally don’t offer as much resistance on D, New Orleans has been able to put up some big offensive numbers, most notably in the 132-130 and 118-113 victories at Phoenix. The way the Jazz-Hornets games have gone so far, can anyone see New Orleans piling up points like that against Utah? No way.

5) Recapping a 1-2 week.
Facing all three Texas teams in a four-day span, you knew this was might be a tough week. A 2-1 mark would have been very good, but the Hornets ran into the league’s hottest team Friday and visited the league champions Saturday.

It’s not rare in the NBA that when a team makes a trade like the Hornets did, it takes a few games to get back to the previous level of play. New Orleans now heads into a similarly difficult stretch of games, but all of them are at home. This will be an interesting week. Washington, still without Gilbert Arenas, visits Monday, followed by Phoenix (now with Shaquille O’Neal) and Utah on ESPN. We’ll see if the Hornets can finish off an impressive 4-0 sweep against the reconfigured Suns and if they can break through in what has been a frustrating season series vs. the Jazz.