Hornets.com postgame: Hawks 89, Hornets 79

Monday, March 9, 2009
By: Jim Eichenhofer, Hornets.com

Whether it was the meager 51 points they produced after the first quarter, their 40 percent shooting overall from the field, or the uncharacteristic six turnovers by their best player, it was easy to pinpoint why the Hornets' season-high seven-game winning streak ended in Atlanta tonight. Across the board, New Orleans (39-23) played its poorest offensive game in several weeks. Give Atlanta credit though - the Hawks showed their early-season stifling defense against the Hornets was no fluke, as they held them to under 80 points for a second time in 2008-09.

Atlanta’s athleticism, size and activity on defense appeared to affect New Orleans again after the visitors’ solid 28-point first quarter. The Hawks also turned their defensive effectiveness into easy baskets at the other end, holding a 21-6 edge in fast-break points.

A few other notes from the loss at Philips Arena:

* David West set a career-high with 20 rebounds, but he was 8-for-21 from the field, probably missing more close-range shots tonight than he has all season. Again, some of this had to be credited to Atlanta’s interior defense. Josh Smith takes a lot of criticism at times for his shot selection, but I still say that the impact of his defensive presence can’t be measured in stats (though he has averaged 2.4 blocks in his career). You see a lot of players rush shots when defended by Smith, because they sense that they need to get rid of the ball before it gets rejected. Smith covers so much ground with his leaping ability and long arms. It seemed like West got near the rim quite a bit but just missed layups.

* It was another encouraging night for Julian Wright. Starting again in place of Peja Stojakovic, Wright finished with 12 points (6-for-11 shooting). His best move probably was a nice left-handed runner across the lane in the first half. On the downside, his one turnover consisted of him attempting a long alley oop pass to Tyson Chandler that was well off the mark and bounded off the backboard.

* Another game where we essentially saw a six-man rotation. James Posey played starter minutes, but Sean Marks, Antonio Daniels and Hilton Armstrong were all used sparingly. Daniels again did not play in the second half, meaning Chris Paul had no rest after sitting the initial 5:36 of the second quarter.

“We’re just putting too much pressure on our starters,” Byron Scott said of the ineffectiveness of the Hornets’ subs. “As far as the second unit, I’ve got to make some changes, because we’ve got to get some productivity out of our bench.

“It’s just a matter of them going in and showing that they want to compete. Those guys are playing 40-plus minutes out of necessity. We have to have a little bit more pride when we come into the game to hold down the fort.”

HORNETS POSTGAME QUOTES (courtesy Atlanta Hawks)
Byron Scott

“The second quarter was awful. I thought our guys did a terrible job in that period, giving up offensive rebounds and layups. Whatever we could do wrong offensively in the second quarter we did. For our starters to play the minutes they’re playing, we have to try and come out and win these games.”

Tyson Chandler
“They did a good job on us. They are all pretty much the same size, and they did a great job with scrambling on defense. They did a good job rotating and keeping us out of our sets, and away from the basket. They kept us out of rhythm.
“They switch across the board and they come at you with 6-7, 6-8 guys or better who are all athletic, and it caused problems for us tonight.
“Their scrambling caused some mismatches for us and made things difficult.”

David West
“They didn’t do anything special on defense, we just couldn’t guard them. We didn’t put together enough stops at any stretch to beat this team. When we aren’t getting quality shots, our defense has to be tougher.
“They were able to do whatever they wanted, and we just didn’t do enough defensively. We didn’t come in with the right mindset. We know Joe Johnson is the guy and we weren’t able to put the clamps on him."

Hornets take seven-game winning streak into Atlanta

Calling it “the biggest road trip of the season,” Hornets coach Byron Scott prepared his club over the past two days for a four-game trek that begins tonight (6 p.m. Central time) in Atlanta. The Hornets have won a season-high seven consecutive games, but face three Eastern Conference playoff contenders on this six-day excursion.
“The only (opponent) that’s not really fighting for anything is Washington,” Scott said of facing the Hawks, Wizards, Bucks and Bulls this week. “Atlanta, they want to try to keep homecourt advantage (in the first round of the playoffs). Milwaukee and Chicago are fighting for that eighth spot. All of these games are going to be playoff-intensity type basketball games. We want to continue to do what we’ve done the last three games on the road, which is win and keep that mentality.”
Part of Scott’s emphasis on the importance of this trip is based on the Western Conference standings, where only 4.5 games separate second-place San Antonio (42-20) and eighth-place Dallas (38-25). Another excellent week could enable the Hornets (39-22) to continue to chip away at their 2.5-game deficit behind the Spurs. A disappointing road trip would likely allow teams such as Portland (39-23) and Denver (40-24) to leapfrog New Orleans in the standings and bump the Hornets to somewhere among seeds 5-7.
“We just want to keep building,” said second-year forward Julian Wright, who was superb in tallying a season-high 20 points Saturday vs. Oklahoma City. “We don’t want to look too far ahead, but we do know that we have to play every game like it’s a Game 7. That’s what the coaching staff has been stressing to us.
“This is the time of year when we’re trying to jockey for position and get a higher seed.”
• Throughout the regular season, I’ve been relying on other writers from around the NBA to provide us with more information on the teams they cover, in our reoccurring Rival Report feature. Micah Hart of Hawks.com returns the favor today, tossing a few questions my way about the Hornets. Check back after tonight’s game in Georgia for more analysis as New Orleans attempts to extend its winning streak.