New Orleans has been one of the best teams in the NBA this season in close games, winning six in a row decided by three points or less entering Monday. The Hornets have also gone unbeaten in overtime and gotten clutch game-winning baskets from three different players, Peja Stojakovic, David West and Chris Paul. On Monday, they were finally on the wrong end of a nail-biter.
DeShawn Stevenson (career-high 33 points) drilled a three-pointer at the buzzer from the left wing, wrapping up an impressive road victory for Washington, particularly since it was playing without Gilbert Arenas and Caron Butler. It was New Orleans’ first defeat in a game decided by a possession since Nov. 7 at Portland, the team’s fifth contest of the 2007-08 regular season.
New Orleans (37-18) had plenty of chances to take command, going up by as many as 15 points, but pesky Washington kept hanging around and staying within striking distance. The Wizards’ three-point final margin was their biggest of the night.
Five observations from a rare narrow Hornets defeat:
1) Free-throw woes.
New Orleans’ 12-for-22 game on foul shots hurt big-time and was especially glaring with Washington going 21-for-24. It’s actually not characteristic at all of the Hornets to flounder at the charity stripe – they entered Monday’s games ranked seventh in the NBA at 77.5 percent. However, several of the key tosses were attempted Monday by players who are at the bottom of the Hornets’ stats in the category. Tyson Chandler missed a pair, while Hilton Armstrong missed three. Even Paul missed his only free throw, after a Washington technical foul.
2) Turnovers another uncharacteristic problem.
If you thought it was strange to see New Orleans struggle on free throws, it was even more unusual for the Hornets to be sloppy taking care of the ball like they were, with 16 turnovers. New Orleans entered Monday as the NBA’s third-most careful team, averaging 11.7 turnovers per game. Washington took full advantage, scoring 26 points off those 16 Hornets miscues.
Overall, New Orleans has been a pretty fundamentally sound team this season, but not on this night.
3) New Hornets play a little less in Game 2.
After logging 20 and 16 minutes, respectively, Saturday, Bonzi Wells and Mike James got 14 and 11 vs. Washington. Wells has misfired on most of his mid-range jumpers during his two-game stint and went 2-for-6 from the field. James gave the team a mini-spark, tallying seven points and handing out an assist.
While individually they haven’t shown many tangible results yet, it does appear that the bench’s overall confidence has risen a bit over the past two games. I don’t think we’re going to see the wild swings from game to game that the reserves were prone to earlier in the season.
4) Not that we didn’t already realize this, but losing streaks in the West are perilous.
Scott mentioned during his postgame chat that the scary thing about the Western Conference is that a team can drop multiple spots by going on even a small losing streak. Look at Houston – the Rockets were well behind New Orleans in the standings a short time ago, but they’re now only 1 ½ games back in the Southwest Division race.
New Orleans has lost three straight games, equaling its longest skid of the campaign. It’s not going to be easy at all to stop the run this week, with Phoenix and Shaq coming in Wednesday and the Jazz here Friday for an ESPN game. The Hornets’ head-to-head problems vs. Utah have been well-documented.
“I don’t know if the guys realize that by the time this week is over, we could be seventh (in the West standings),” Byron Scott said. “Very easily. We’ve got to play with a little bit more fire, passion and energy.”
5) Morris Peterson breaks out in defeat.
The 6-foot-7 shooting guard has been extremely quiet this month, not reaching double figures since Feb. 4 at Utah. The Michigan State product turned in a nice performance Monday, however, scoring 18 points on 6-for-7 shooting. He was on the floor in crunch time, which is also a rarity recently. It was his best offensive output since Jan. 5 at Phoenix.
As a result of Mo Pete’s quality game, James and Wells remained on the bench during the key moments of the fourth quarter. In Saturday’s game at San Antonio, Scott had alternated between the two trade acquisitions during the final few minutes.