The post All-Star break portion of the NBA regular season is sometimes referred to as the “dog days” of the 82-game schedule, when every team has already played a lot of games, but there is still enough time left on the docket that the playoffs aren’t imminent, either.
Well, Friday was officially game No. 57 of the campaign for the Hornets, but clearly this wasn’t just another regular-season game. New Orleans (39-18) wanted this victory badly.
After playing two of their worst games of the year in trips to Salt Lake City earlier this season – losses by ugly 99-71 and 110-88 scores – the Hornets were particularly motivated to face the Jazz in a nationally-televised game on ESPN.
“My pregame speech was real quick,” Hornets coach Byron Scott said. “Basically I just brought them in and said, ‘I don’t think I need to say anything. The tape (of the Utah losses) should say it all.’
“I thought we responded well. We know that they’re a very good team, but they’re not 25 points better than us.”
At one stage during the first half Friday, the scoreboard had the Hornets as 27 points better than the Jazz. Utah methodically cut into that deficit, pulling within four in the fourth quarter, but New Orleans made numerous big shots to record a 12-point win.
After the game, the players were congratulated by Hornets owner George Shinn and executive officer of the board Chad Shinn, who don’t usually appear in the locker room after contests, but were obviously thrilled by the win.
Five observations from the triumph at the New Orleans Arena:
1) Chris Paul gets better of Deron Williams this time.
Though not by a landslide. The Hornets’ All-Star point guard had struggled in a big way during the two games at Utah, creating some talk that CP simply doesn’t match up well head-to-head against Williams. Paul responded to that by piling up 24 points, 16 assists and five steals, along with only one turnover.
Williams was not exactly off his game, finishing with 22 points and 10 assists.
2) Jannero Pargo, the closer.
The 6-foot-1 combo guard is not a starter, but he’s been on the floor in crunch time consistently lately and has made as many big shots as just about any Hornet. He was huge in the fourth quarter, tallying 10 points on 4-for-7 shooting, including a pair of treys. He jokingly said earlier this season that he wants to be called “Mariano Rivera” for his game-closing abilities, and that tag was appropriate again Friday.
“He’s been just what we needed and right on time,” Tyson Chandler said of Pargo’s timely baskets. “He makes huge shots when we have a tough time scoring and takes a lot of pressure off other guys.”
It was somewhat surprising after the season Pargo had in 2006-07 that he did not receive bigger contract offers – especially compared to some of the other mid-level free agents who cashed in last summer – but he seems to be making another case for himself this season.
“I feel you on that,” Chandler, Pargo’s locker-room neighbor, said. “I think a lot of people around the league know his value. We definitely know his value.”
3) Bench usage dwindles.
In another indication of how important this particular game was to the Hornets, Scott did not utilize his reserves much. Other than Pargo, no sub played more than 11 minutes. Rasual Butler, Ryan Bowen and Mike James logged six minutes apiece – but none appeared on the court in the second half. Paul, David West and Peja Stojakovic were all over 40 minutes.
“I thought I had some tired horses out there in the fourth quarter,” Scott said, while partly explaining why Utah was able to cut into the lead late.
4) Updating the new guys.
Bonzi Wells missed a second straight game to a sore Achilles’, while Mike James played just six minutes, going 1-for-2 from the floor for two points.
Before the game, ESPN analyst Hubie Brown was gracious enough to chat about the Hornets with us for the second time in less than two months. The first question to one of the NBA’s premier color commentators was to assess the trade for Wells and James.
“I think it’s a major plus,” Brown said of the deal. “Because you’re getting two people who are playoff-experienced guys who can score at playoff time. Both of these guys can do that. You gave up Bobby Jackson, but Pargo is playing extremely well right now. With Pargo and James, you’re going to have a solid group to back up your starters.”
5) Arena homecourt advantage becoming a factor.
This was the fifth sellout of the season and the second straight full house at the New Orleans Arena, with attendance at 17,445. It was one of the loudest crowds of the year, and we also saw probably the most intense “MVP!” chant for CP3 in the fourth quarter as he attempted a pair of free throws.
“It feels great to have the crowd getting involved like they are,” Chandler said. “They had the place rocking."