Five Observations: Wizards 101, Hornets 84

Sunday, March 2, 2008
By: Jim Eichenhofer, Hornets.com

After trailing nearly all game, New Orleans pulled within 80-79 on Mike James’ three-point play with 6:27 remaining. From there, the bottom dropped out on the Hornets. Washington (29-30) reeled off a 19-0 run over the next 5 ½ minutes, building a 20-point lead en route to a two-game season series sweep over New Orleans (39-19), with both coming in the past seven days.

It was a second straight poor outing for the Hornets against the Wizards, whose pair of victories are even more impressive given the injury absences of All-Star Caron Butler and one of the NBA’s best scorers, Gilbert Arenas. New Orleans shot poorly from the field (41 percent) and committed many of its 15 turnovers in the first half, leading to a 13-point intermission deficit. Perhaps no statistic demonstrated the unusual nature of this game from a Hornets perspective than Chris Paul’s six turnovers, the most he’s had in a game in nearly two months. CP3 is ranked third in the NBA in assist-to-turnover ratio.

Five observations after the 17-point defeat the Verizon Center:

1) Bonzi Wells’ rough start in new uniform continues.
After missing the victories over Phoenix and Utah due to a bruised Achilles tendon, the 6-foot-5 swingman was back on the court Sunday. However, his poor luck since coming to New Orleans remained, as he left the game after an eight-minute stint in the first half due to the same injury. Wells grabbed six rebounds in his brief outing and tallied a putback basket for two points. The club is still looking for its first victory when the Ball State product plays.

2) The second piece of the trade has best game so far as a Hornet.
In pretty much every account you read of the Houston-New Orleans trade that brought Wells and James to the Hornets, Wells was mentioned first, with James more or less an “oh by the way” part of the deal. Obviously Wells hasn’t had a full opportunity to show what he can bring to the squad, but judging by early results, James may prove that he shouldn’t have been a relative afterthought in that transaction.

The Duquesne product made three big baskets in the fourth quarter, helping New Orleans slice into Washington’s advantage. It’s a very small sample, with James only appearing in five Hornets games thus far, but he’s shooting the ball much better than he did with Houston this season, going 11-for-21 (52 percent).

3) The 40-20 rule on judging elite status.
Los Angeles Lakers coach Phil Jackson uses a simple rule to determine whether an NBA team should be considered “elite” or not: If they get to 40 wins before they have 20 losses, they are elite. Are the Hornets an elite club? Judging by Jackson’s rule of thumb, it’s as close as mathematically possible, with New Orleans at 39-19 right now heading into Monday’s game at New York.

4) ESPN’s Barry: Hornets are desired opponent in playoffs.
During Friday’s ESPN coverage of the NBA, game analyst Jon Barry noted that if a team such as Denver or Golden State ends up as the No. 8 seed in the Western Conference, they will be very happy if New Orleans earns the top seed, setting up a head-to-head matchup in the opening round.

Whether we like it or not, the Hornets’ lack of collective postseason experience is going to lead to them being mentioned as a club that is more likely than other West qualifiers to be knocked out early. That will be the case no matter where New Orleans finishes in the Western Conference standings. Among the other eight West teams right now that have a viable chance of being in the postseason, all of them have experienced success in May or June recently, or at the very least made a couple trips to the playoffs. The last time the Hornets advanced in the playoffs was 2002, when no current player was with the franchise.

5) Even without Arenas and Butler, the Wizards are better than most think.
After Monday’s home defeat to Washington, several fans I talked to seemed to feel like it was almost a foregone conclusion that New Orleans would avenge that loss in Sunday’s rematch with the Wizards. Not so fast. While Washington isn’t a juggernaut on paper without their two star players, the Wizards have gotten some quality contributions from several guys who are relatively unknown, but solid pieces. They’ve also lost a number of games lately by close margins against quality opponents.

Byron Scott seemed to feel like his players were caught underestimating Washington in the two matchups this week. “(Hornets players) didn’t think they could get beaten by this team twice,” Scott reasoned when asked about why New Orleans struggled so much vs. Washington. “We talked about how hard this team plays. They battled. They came out and played hard. We didn’t compete. When that happens, you’re going to get a loss.”