Hornets.com postgame: Bulls 99, Hornets 95

Tuesday, February 28, 2012
By: Jim Eichenhofer, Hornets.com

Bulls (28-8), Hornets (8-26)

It was over when… Trevor Ariza’s inbound pass with 10 seconds remaining was picked off by Chicago, which took over possession leading by four points. With New Orleans out of timeouts, Ariza needed to get rid of the ball, but could not connect with a darting Marco Belinelli near the three-point line. The miscue was the final nail in a near-upset by the Hornets, who led 95-91 with less than two minutes to go when Gustavo Ayon drained a baseline jumper. It was tied at 95 when Derrick Rose’s jumper rolled around the rim and in with 19 seconds remaining. Rose tacked on two free throws after Jarrett Jack’s driving floater bounced off the rim at the other end

Hornets MVP: A fairly difficult decision between Ariza and Chris Kaman (17 points, 11 rebounds, 5 assists), but I’ll give a slight edge to Ariza, who was efficient on offense and disruptive on defense. The starting small forward finished with 16 points (7-for-12 shooting, 2-for-2 on treys), while adding eight rebounds, four assists, three steals and one blocked shot.

Hornets Sixth Man of the Game: Xavier Henry may have played his best game as a Hornet, tallying a season-best 12 points and pulling down six rebounds. Henry also went 6-for-7 from the foul line, an area where he had been struggling mightily in 2011-12. The second-year Kansas product has a soft shooting touch, making it inexplicable that he was just 11-for-24 entering Tuesday. He’s now at 17-for-31. Perhaps more importantly, Henry showed improved aggressiveness taking the ball to the basket against the Bulls.

The buzz on… improved chemistry resulting from continuity. Although the Hornets will gladly welcome the return of their handful of injured players, one silver lining of the extended absences is that New Orleans has finally been able to utilize a common rotation in recent games. As a result, the 10 players who’ve been on the floor seem to be gelling and understanding their roles, as well as their teammates’ strengths. One of the most telling examples of this improvement has been the number of backdoor cuts that have led to key layups in recent weeks – something we rarely saw in the first month-plus of the season. Monty Williams said in early February that the Hornets believe they are better than their record, and Tuesday’s result – even in defeat – appeared to again validate that opinion. It’s interesting to note that one factor in NOLA’s record has been the schedule, which is more conference-heavy in 2011-12 than a normal NBA regular season. The Hornets are just 3-19 against the West, but a respectable 5-7 when facing the East, including an oh-so-close defeat on the home floor of that conference’s second-best club Tuesday. In a conventional 82-game schedule, 37 percent (30 games) of a team’s schedule is against the opposite conference. This season, that chunk (18 games) is only 27 percent.