Hornets.com postgame: Nuggets 114, Hornets 103

Monday, March 14, 2011
By: Jim Eichenhofer, Hornets.com

Nuggets (40-27), Hornets (39-30)

It was over when… Denver collected a long rebound off a New Orleans three-point attempt, holding a 107-96 lead going into the final official timeout. The Nuggets picked up a quality road victory on the strength of a stellar offensive performance, including 17-of-29 three-point shooting. The Hornets got an up-close look at why the Nuggets have been playing outstanding basketball since the Carmelo Anthony trade, now 8-2. New Orleans remained in sixth place in the Western Conference, but fell two games behind Denver and is just a half game in front of No. 7 Portland (37-29).

Hornets MVP: It took a little while for Chris Paul to ignite his offensive game Monday, but after a scoreless first quarter, he produced similarly to his Saturday return to action from a concussion. Paul finished with 27 points, five rebounds, 10 assists and seven steals. Two days after tallying his season-high in points vs. Sacramento, the four-time All-Star had his second-most points of 2010-11.

Hornets Sixth Man of the Game: With New Orleans in a big hole and Denver showing little or no signs of slowing down, Jason Smith delivered a second-half spark that helped the Hornets remain within striking distance. Smith played all 12 minutes of the fourth quarter, going 4-for-6 from the field for eight points. Willie Green also tried to provide a boost off the bench, netting 18 points, including 3-for-4 shooting from beyond the arc.

The buzz on… the Western Conference race. With only 13 games remaining on the schedule, it’s going to be extremely difficult for the Hornets to finish higher than fifth place in the conference, with fourth-place Oklahoma City (43-23) now holding a 5 1/2-game lead on the Hornets (and for all intents and purposes, it’s a 6-game gap because OKC also has secured the tiebreaker on NOLA).

New Orleans’ defeat to Denver on Monday could ultimately prove costly in the hunt for fifth, because the Nuggets are now three games ahead of the Hornets in the loss column. In fact, the way the Nuggets have been playing lately, they may be able to challenge OKC for the top spot in the Northwest Division and fourth overall seed.

The final portion of the Hornets’ regular season schedule is somewhat unusual in that it features a large chunk of games against teams they are vying with in the standings, including Wednesday’s home game vs. Phoenix, the first of three more against the Suns. Phoenix (33-32) narrowly lost in Houston tonight, allowing the Hornets to maintain a four-game edge on the Suns.

In terms of New Orleans qualifying for the playoffs, the teams to watch may be Phoenix and Utah, because they are currently in ninth and 10th place. However, time is beginning to become a negative factor for both the Suns and Jazz as the schedule dwindles into the final four weeks. For example, if the Hornets finish just above .500 at 7-6 in their final 13 games, they will end the regular season with a 46-36 record. For Phoenix to match that, the Suns would have to go 13-4. Not impossible but not likely, either.

Blog question of the night: The Hornets announced a new “I’m In” campaign at a press conference prior to Monday’s game, which essentially means that by supporting the Hornets, one is saying they’re “in” on supporting the city of New Orleans. The campaign features an impressive array of local celebrities, such as Governor Bobby Jindal, New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu, Saints quarterback Drew Brees, musicians such as Kermit Ruffins and Jeremy Davenport, along with many others. What are the best ways fans – local and otherwise – can spread the message of supporting the Hornets’ goal of becoming a long-term success in the Big Easy?