Hornets.com postgame: Grizzlies 104, Hornets 100

Wednesday, March 3, 2010
By: Jim Eichenhofer, Hornets.com

Normally, the fourth quarter of home games is when the Hornets have done their best work this season, resulting in one of the NBA’s best records in close games. New Orleans entered tonight with a sparkling 15-5 record in games decided by five points or less and a 20-10 home mark.

With that said, tonight’s defeat was another indication that the momentum has swung in the wrong direction for the Hornets in their pursuit of a Western Conference playoff berth. Leading by nine points with 6 ½ minutes remaining, New Orleans (31-31) was outscored 25-12. In the process, Memphis (31-30) leapfrogged the Hornets in the conference and division standings, pushing NOLA further from the No. 8 spot.

There have been countless times this season when the Hornets have won a game they easily could’ve lost if not for a few clutch plays and fortunate bounces, but this was an instance where the players felt the opposite was true. Perhaps the most pivotal play of the game was a Zach Randolph three-pointer from about 30 feet that banked in and gave the Grizzlies a 96-95 lead at 1:20 that they never relinquished. Randolph is a 27 percent three-point shooter and was heaving the shot merely to beat the 24-second clock.

“We definitely feel like we let this one slip away,” said Aaron Gray, who produced seven points and eight rebounds in 20 minutes. “But we don’t feel like it’s the end of the season. We’re going to come in tomorrow and prepare for (Friday’s game at) San Antonio.”

For more on this game, click on the NEWS/Postgame Quotes tab on Hornets.ocm.

Songaila to return after seven-game absence

Although Darren Collison has been superb as a starter and the Hornets have done a mostly commendable job without three-time All-Star Chris Paul, they are now 6-9 in this recent stretch since Paul sustained a knee injury Jan. 29. It hasn’t helped that for the past seven games, dependable frontcourt reserve Darius Songaila has also been sidelined, the result of a severe ankle sprain Feb. 17 vs. Utah.

After New Orleans (31-30) went 3-4 without Songaila, the 6-foot-9 power forward will be back in action tonight vs. Memphis (7 p.m., New Orleans Arena). His return is expected to aid the Hornets in several areas, including giving them another much-needed healthy player. Jeff Bower has only had 10 players available since the Songaila injury.

“I think he’s very effective in our pick-and-roll coverages,” Bower said of the elements Songaila brings. “He’s another big who can screen-and-roll, and screen-and-pop. He gives us timely scoring and a lot of interior toughness. We’re certainly happy he’s going to be available tonight.

“He gives us more flexibility, having another frontline performer that has been consistent on both ends of the floor.”

Bower also addressed a few other topics during shootaround this morning:

• There is no target date for Paul’s return from knee surgery. “There is no real update,” Bower said. “He’s continuing along with his progress. It will be a little while yet, of course. But he’s moving along and we’re pleased with where he’s at, but he’s got a ways to go.”

• Bower on Aaron Gray, who made key contributions vs. Orlando and Dwight Howard but did not play in either the Dallas or San Antonio game: “We expect to use Aaron tonight (against Memphis’) frontline and their emphasis on pounding the ball inside. I think Aaron did a real good job in that Orlando game. We need to work him into things a little bit, especially tonight and moving forward.” Bower said Gray did not play in the past two games due to the style of play and matchups. “(It was) based on the flow of the game more than anything,” Bower said. “It was through no fault of his.” For example, the Spurs often utilized small lineups, featuring undersized rookie center DeJuan Blair. In the Mavericks game, the Hornets fell behind big early, creating a need for more scorers on the floor.

Update: Sean Marks will miss the next 10 days with a strained right shoulder. His status will be re-evaluated after that timeframe.