Anyone who is still skeptical about whether New Orleans should be considered a legitimate factor in the Western Conference may want to take note of the Hornets’ 4-0 sweep over Phoenix this season. Or they could look at the club’s West-leading road record of 20-10. Another option after Wednesday’s victory? Two blowout victories over the Spurs, a team whose defensive prowess means they rarely get dominated on the scoreboard.
New Orleans (43-20) moved within a half game of San Antonio (44-20) and Houston (44-20) at the top of the Southwest Division standings, overpowering the Spurs in the fourth quarter. The Hornets gave up just eight fourth-quarter points to the Spurs, a franchise record for the hosts.
New Orleans led 76-67 through three quarters, then outscored San Antonio 24-8 in the last stanza. The Hornets went up by as many as 26 points, leading Spurs coach Gregg Popovich to pull his starters with about four minutes remaining. On Jan. 26 in San Antonio, New Orleans bested the defending NBA champions by a similar score, 102-78.
“That was probably our best defensive effort all season,” Byron Scott credited. “Considering what was at stake, to come out and play like that was fantastic.”
Five observations from the 25-point win at the New Orleans Arena:
1) Chris Paul gains upper hand on his buddy.
In a recent ESPN: The Magazine article, writer Chris Palmer discussed how Tony Parker and Parker’s well-known wife Eva Longoria have occasionally stayed at Paul's downtown New Orleans apartment during previous road trips to the Big Easy. The point guards weren’t matched up head-to-head consistently Wednesday, because the Spurs often opted to use All-NBA defender Bruce Bowen against Paul. San Antonio didn’t have much effectiveness vs. Paul despite playing physical at times; Paul finished with 26 points and 17 assists. He made 12 of 19 shots and was particularly lethal on jumpers from about 20 feet. Parker was very good offensively as well, with 24 points on 10-for-16 shooting. On the negative side, he only had four assists and went 2-for-8 on free throws.
2) Definitely not your average booing.
It’s fairly common in the NBA to see a crowd boo an individual player whenever he touches the ball, such as when Golden State’s Baron Davis was here earlier this season. However, I’m not sure if I’ve ever heard fans boo an entire TEAM, as they did Wednesday. After a series of physical plays between the Hornets and Spurs – with Bowen often being in the thick of the action – New Orleans Arena fans began loudly booing every San Antonio offensive series. The catcalls barely let up throughout the entire second half.
“Usually when fans boo like that, it’s for one or two plays, then they kind of forget about it,” Ryan Bowen said. “But they kept it going. It’s always great to see the crowd so into it like that.”
“I loved that,” said a smiling Tyson Chandler. “It was a big homecourt advantage for us.”
“It was real cool,” Paul said. “The fans are always behind us. It was good that they recognized that stuff wasn’t going our way at that point in the game.”
“Our fans were unbelievable tonight,” Morris Peterson said. “I’ve never seen an entire team get booed like that since I’ve been in the NBA.”
3) More positives for Julian Wright.
The rookie from Kansas continued to display another of his skills – the ability to use his athleticism and leaping ability to get his hands on missed shots and grab offensive boards. He collected seven rebounds in his 19 minutes of action and scored four points.
“He continues to get better as a basketball player,” Scott said. “It gives us more depth, obviously.”
Wright also drilled a confident turnaround jumper from about 15 feet. He’s been showing hints of his face-up game and shooting skills since he cracked the rotation four games ago.
4) The return of David West is a smashing success.
Judging by his 29-point, 10-rebound stat line, you would’ve never guessed that the All-Star power forward had missed three straight games to an ankle injury and hadn’t suited up since March 3 at New York.
“The guy we missed the most the last three games was David West,” Scott said. “He came back with a big game.”
West was seen limping at one stage of the second half, but after getting his ankle re-taped, the team’s staff said the Xavier product was fine. He played 36 minutes.
5) The buzz on... the rotation.
With West back on the floor and Bonzi Wells also returning from injury, it had a ripple effect on Scott's rotation. First, with 14 healthy players available for the first time in a while, it necessitated placing Rasual Butler and Chris Andersen on the inactive list. The Birdman is still looking to make his first game appearance this season, while Butler appears to now be facing long odds of getting back into the rotation anytime soon.
Melvin Ely remains ahead of Hilton Armstrong as the backup center, meaning Armstrong did not enter the game until 4:15 remained. Mike James also logged only 4:15 of playing time, due to Wells’ return. The second unit now looks like this: Jannero Pargo at point guard; Wells at the 2; Wright at the 3; Ryan Bowen at the 4; and Melvin Ely at the 5.
Wells had the most productive night among the reserves, scoring eight points and grabbing three rebounds in only 16 minutes of playing time.