After a semi-disappointing two-game road trip that netted a double-digit defeat at Washington and a narrow escape in New York, the Hornets were hoping to put forth a better performance Wednesday on their home floor. Even without the services of second-leading scorer David West (ankle), New Orleans (41-19) bounced back from the trip East with an excellent overall team effort, resulting in a relatively easy victory over Atlanta (24-35).
New Orleans was sparkling from the perimeter, finishing the game 15-for-29 on three-pointers. The result was the Hornets’ highest single-game scoring output (excluding Phoenix games) since Jan. 28, when they racked up 117 points vs. Denver.
Peja Stojakovic led the scoring barrage with 29 points and 7-for-11 three-point shooting. Chris Paul drilled three of four treys among his 23 points, while handing out 18 assists. Jannero Pargo came off the bench for 22 points and three more trifectas; Tyson Chandler grabbed 16 boards and had 14 points.
“When you’re missing 20 and 10 (West’s scoring and rebounding averages), it’s not just going to be one guy making up the difference,” Byron Scott said of the various contributions. “There has to be a combination of a few of them.”
Five observations from the 15-point triumph at the New Orleans Arena:
1) Julian Wright takes full advantage of move into rotation.
I’m sure I wasn’t alone to be surprised when the rookie entered the game in the first quarter, but apparently Rasual Butler has played his way back out of the mix. When Bonzi Wells (sore Achilles) missed the New York game Monday, it elevated Butler into the rotation, but that only lasted one game. Butler was ineffective vs. the Knicks, going 0-for-4 from the field. It appears Wright was the beneficiary, logging 23 minutes Wednesday. He scored a career-high 13 points and also equaled a career-best in rebounding with seven.
“He did a heck of a job,” Byron Scott credited. “I thought he was great. He came off the bench with the energy that we talked about. The energy that Ryan (Bowen) supplies, Julian also supplies, (but he’s) just a better offensive player (than Bowen).”
Scott alluded to how several players have moved in and out of the rotation this season based on lack of effectiveness when called upon. Butler and Wright both fit in that category.
“I went right down the line giving different guys an opportunity,” Scott said. “I told Julian, when you get the chance, it’s up to you to take advantage of it. I thought tonight he played fantastic.”
2) Hornets tie franchise record for three-pointers.
New Orleans entered Wednesday ranked second in the NBA in three-point percentage (38.9), so it’s not surprising when you see this team get hot from the outside. However, there was really no let-up all night from the perimeter guys. The Hornets had either four or five treys in each of the first three quarters, then drilled two more in the final stanza.
“We got into a really good flow, a really good rhythm,” Scott said. “When we’re shooting the ball the way we were, it’s hard to beat us.”
New Orleans had one of its best passing game of the season as well, registering 35 assists on 47 field goals.
3) Injury/rotation update.
It’s unclear whether West will be back on the floor Friday night vs. New Jersey and there was no word on Wells’ progress. “He’s going to get some treatment tomorrow as well as Friday morning, then we’ll see how he looks Friday night,” Scott said of West.
As a result of West’s absence vs. Atlanta, Ryan Bowen was elevated to the starting lineup for the first time this season. Bowen did a nice job, even if his play didn’t jump off the stat sheet, tallying eight points and four assists in 35 minutes.
In other news, I thought there was a chance Melvin Ely might play a little more based on West not being available, but Ely ended up with nine minutes. Most of that extra PT went to Bowen.
Mike James had two straight solid games on the road trip, but played fewer minutes (10) on Wednesday than he had at Washington and at New York. He certainly would’ve played more vs. Atlanta had Pargo not done so well in his 31 minutes.
4) The buzz on… Chris Andersen.
Any notion that the “Birdman” was going to immediately figure prominently in the rotation was quelled by Scott, who is taking a patient approach with the reinstated forward/center. Scott ruled out the possibility of Andersen playing Wednesday when he put Andersen on the inactive list, even though the Hornets actually only had 11 available players (the club has 14 total roster members, but West, Wells and Andersen were not in uniform).
“It’s going to be awhile,” Scott said of how long he will take to evaluate Andersen’s ability to move into the mix. “It’s a day-by-day process. The one thing we’ve had here is great chemistry with these guys and all of them have been here all season long. He’s missed two years. He has to earn our trust and earn that respect back.”
5) A memorable delay in the action.
The fourth quarter was interrupted by a 12-minute delay due to a torn net. The net was damaged at the end of a timeout, when the French Quarter Flyers dunk team threw down a slam that shredded a couple strands. Usually when there is a lengthy delay like that, you might expect the crowd to get restless, but at the end of this break, fans actually stood and cheered.
Let me try to explain: At the beginning of the delay, the PA system played the popular Sugar Hill Gang dance song “Apache.” A couple minutes in, the BuzzVision screen showed Julian Wright standing in front of the team bench; Wright started showing off some of his best dance moves for the entire arena to watch, causing fans to begin laughing hysterically and urging Wright to continue dancing.
The delay continued on, so the arena staff moved on to the always-popular “Kiss Cam” segment. At one point, the video screen showed Atlanta forward Josh Childress and Tyson Chandler seated next to each other and chatting at the scorer’s table. Childress initially shook his head to indicate that he didn’t want to kiss Chandler, but he then changed his mind, stuck out his tongue and leaned toward the Hornets’ center in joking fashion. The crowd went ballistic. Also during Kiss Cam, the video board showed Atlanta guards Mike Bibby and Joe Johnson standing next to each other on the court, but as soon as they appeared on the screen, they walked in opposite directions (apparently Bibby hasn’t been with the Hawks long enough for them to develop that type of chemistry).
Just before the delay ended, Hornets players including Pargo, Chandler and Mike James stood in front of the scorer’s table in a circle and did Harlem Globetrotter-type ballhandling tricks and threw bounce passes to a young fan who had a front-row seat.