It took a little while longer than some fans may have expected, but New Orleans (42-19) eventually wrested control of Friday’s game from New Jersey (26-36), racking up 64 second-half points en route to a third consecutive win. The upset-minded Nets led 46-43 at halftime, but the Hornets broke loose after intermission, going up by as many as 20 points. “I thought in the second half we came out with a much more aggressive mindset,” Hornets coach Byron Scott said.
Chris Paul paced New Orleans with 25 points and 16 assists, while three other Hornets reached double digits in scoring.
Five notes after the 11-point victory in the New Orleans Arena:
1) Julian Wright follows up breakthrough game with an even better performance.
The 6-foot-8 rookie from Kansas turned heads Wednesday vs. Atlanta with a 13-point, seven-rebound effort, easily his best game of the season. Well, he was more impressive 48 hours later, netting 20 points on 8-for-9 shooting Friday, including a three-pointer. He also grabbed eight rebounds in his 30 minutes of playing time. He canned two other perimeter shots along with his trey, marksmanship we haven’t seen a lot of yet from the 20-year-old.
Scott said after the game that some of the traits that made Wright New Orleans’ choice at No. 13 in the 2007 draft are beginning to become evident. “He’s very active and that’s the thing we said when we got him,” Scott noted. “He’s a guy who does a little bit of everything pretty well on the offensive end and defense. He runs, he rebounds and he’s a very good passer.
“But the biggest thing when we played him earlier in the season was his lack of energy. Now he’s playing with a lot of energy. It’s been obvious the last two games. He’s changed the flow of the game because of his energy and athleticism.”
I was wondering if Wright thought he would’ve even been capable of this type of game back in November, when he was in the first month of his NBA career. His answer: probably not.
“I’ll be honest – I don’t think so,” he said. “I’ve learned a lot. I’ve learned some of the nuances that make it much easier to make the transition and easier to know how you can be effective. I know that I don’t know everything, so I’ve spent a lot of time talking to other (players) and the assistant coaches, to pick up what I needed to learn.
“The game is slowing down for me. To be honest, it’s hard to play (under control and be patient) at times when you’re not playing a lot, but I’m getting better at that.”
Wright’s teammates seem genuinely excited that the well-liked rookie is starting to produce tangible results. “It’s great to see the way he’s been playing,” said Tyson Chandler, who was frequently spotted during Friday’s game standing and cheering after a positive play from Wright. “After all the work he’s put in, I’m really happy to see it.”
2) The Hornets are becoming the most prolific users of the alley oop in the NBA.
I doubt anyone actually has the stats on this, but I can’t imagine there is a club that utilizes the fan-friendly play more than New Orleans does right now. Tyson Chandler had three more dunks off alley oop passes, while Wright added three of his own.
It seems like when Paul pushes the ball up the floor on fast breaks, he’s always looking to set up a lob to the hoop. At 7-foot-1 and with excellent leaping ability for a big man, Chandler has been feasting on slams for a second straight season as a Hornet. Wright has shown an ability to catch passes from further away from the hoop than most players and turn it into a resounding slam.
3) Parade to the foul line is the difference vs. Nets.
New Orleans is last in the NBA in free-throw attempts this season, so Friday was somewhat unusual. The Hornets made 33 trips to the charity stripe, while the Nets only had seven. New Orleans canned 28 of its foul shots; Paul led the way with an 11-for-11 showing. “That was because we were attacking, and trying to keep (the Nets) out of the paint (defensively),” Scott explained.
Another trait that Wright adds to the mix is his knack for penetrating defenses and getting into the lane. If he continues to get consistent minutes, he could be the slasher that New Orleans may need to draw more fouls and be less reliant on perimeter shots. While the Hornets’ shooting ability is one major reason for their success, come playoff time it will be huge if they can get more easy baskets and close-range hoops, especially on the road.
4) The buzz on… Ryan Bowen.
Sure, the opponents haven’t been formidable on paper, but the Hornets haven’t skipped a beat with Bowen in the starting lineup, replacing David West (ankle). One aspect of Bowen’s game that I think makes him a good fit in this starting five is that he doesn’t need to take many shots, which means Paul, Peja Stojakovic and even Morris Peterson are not getting fewer looks at the basket than they normally would.
A local reporter asked Scott if Wright’s excellent pair of games was making it hard to keep Wright out of the starting lineup, but Scott immediately dismissed the idea. It’s not clear if the reporter meant Wright should replace Morris Peterson or just take Bowen’s spot temporarily while West is still sidelined, but either way Scott isn’t going to consider it. Bowen never puts up huge numbers, but he appears to be doing just fine as the temporary solution at starting power forward.
5) A game to watch in Houston on Saturday night.
It’s not often you get a chance to try to halt someone’s 17-game winning streak, but that will be the challenge for the Hornets when they face the Rockets in less than 24 hours. Houston’s incredible run has moved them within 1 ½ games of New Orleans for second place in the Southwest Division, making Saturday one of the more significant games of the regular season. The season series is tied at 1-1, so a New Orleans victory would go a long way toward putting the Hornets in much better position. The squads meet a fourth and final time March 19 here in the Big Easy.
“They’ve been playing great basketball,” Scott said of the Rockets. “It would be nice to go there and end that streak.”
It’s possible, but don’t expect West to play at Houston. “To be honest with you,” Scott said of the power forward, “unless David says he feels great and is ready to play, I’m really inclined to rest him and get him ready for the next week.”
Sitting West may be a wise move, since the Hornets don’t play again until Wednesday, when they host the Spurs in another key Southwest Division matchup. Then they host the Lakers on Friday.
Also on the injury front, Bonzi Wells (bruised Achilles) is doubtful to suit up in Houston, but is expected to be back by the San Antonio game on Wednesday.