Five Observations: Pistons 105, Hornets 84

Sunday, March 16, 2008
By: Jim Eichenhofer, Hornets.com

Unless you closely follow the NBA, it’s possible you may not have even heard of Jarvis Hayes prior to Sunday. The 6-foot-8 swingman and former Washington first-round pick signed with Detroit as a free agent in summer 2007, after four mostly disappointing seasons with the Wizards. His career averages are 8.4 points and 2.1 rebounds.

Unfortunately for the Hornets, the University of Georgia product picked New Orleans’ first appearance on network TV in years to play one of the best games of his NBA career. Hayes racked up a game-best 29 points – including 19 in the second quarter alone, one better than his previous season-high of 18 points – to spearhead Detroit’s 21-point victory. Hayes was a scorching 7-for-8 from three-point range and canned five treys in the second quarter.

New Orleans (44-21) actually scored the first 11 points of the game, but Detroit (48-18) took control in the second period with a 34-18 push and was up 11 by halftime. Playing at what Byron Scott described as “50 percent” due to an ankle injury, Chris Paul finished with 14 points and 14 assists. Peja Stojakovic led the Hornets with 21 points.

Other quick notes from this game:

- David West missed the game to an ankle injury. Melvin Ely got the starting nod instead of Ryan Bowen and did a nice job, with 15 points and five rebounds. It was Ely’s first start of 2007-08.

- Rasual Butler joined West on the inactive list. Chris Andersen was activated as the 12th Hornet in uniform but did not get into the game. He’s yet to make his first game appearance.

With the Hornets making their first appearance on network TV since the franchise relocated to New Orleans in 2002-03, let’s examine five Hornets-related items discussed during ABC’s broadcast:

1) Hubie Brown on Julian Wright: “Definitely a talent.”
Brown and ABC play-by-play broadcaster Mike Tirico frequently praised the rookie from Kansas, often referring to Wright’s high upside. “He’s definitely a talent,” Brown described. “It just took him awhile to adjust and show to the coaching staff that he could (contribute).”

After one play where Wright quickly dribbled into the frontcourt and fed Bonzi Wells with a nifty pass that led to a Wells dunk, Tirico said: “He just showed a glimpse of the package that has everyone (in New Orleans) excited.”

The 6-foot-8, 225-pounder was impressive again on defense, finishing with four steals, most notably a pair of thefts in which he used his length and wingspan to pick off Detroit entry passes. He also had 10 points on 4-for-12 shooting and pulled down five rebounds in 22 minutes.

2) The CP3-MVP scrapbooks.
ABC sideline reporter Lisa Salters discussed the team’s Chris Paul-for-MVP promotional campaign, which features an unusual facet: CP3-for-MVP scrapbooks that were put together by New Orleans schoolchildren. Kids from elementary schools where the 6-foot point guard has personally visited have made scrapbooks – I believe the documents are about six to eight pages in length – that praise the Hornets’ All-Star for his on- and off-the-court traits.

I saw several of the scrapbooks earlier this week. They include a twist in that the kids refer to Paul as the “Most Valuable Person,” alluding to various community projects CP has been involved with since the team returned full-time to New Orleans last summer.

Each media member who is participating in the MVP voting will be mailed one of the kids’ scrapbooks, which include the name, picture and school of the child who made the piece. In the ones I perused, the children were all wearing white No. 3 Hornets jerseys in their photos.

ABC showed Paul’s reaction to seeing the scrapbooks for the first time. He was semi-speechless for a second and said he “had goosebumps,” clearly appreciative of the creative gesture.

3) Jon Barry: “Chris Paul is the best point guard in the league.”
NBA Countdown pregame commentator Jon Barry said Paul is a better player right now than any of the other elite 1’s, including Steve Nash, Tony Parker and Deron Williams. “There is no way the New Orleans Hornets are a half game out of first place in the West without Chris Paul,” Barry said.

Michael Wilbon argued that Paul’s impact on the Hornets is evident in how successful the club’s first string has been all season, saying that the group is not necessarily ultra-impressive on paper.

“I don’t want to disparage David West, Tyson Chandler, Morris Peterson and Peja Stojakovic, but that’s not the best starting five in the league,” Wilbon said. “But a lot of nights they play like (they are the best), because of Chris Paul.”

4) Wilbon: “Hornets have something to prove.”
Also during the pregame Countdown show, Wilbon predicted that Houston’s lengthy winning streak will come to an end Wednesday at the New Orleans Arena. Wilbon reasoned that the Hornets will be additionally motivated for that game, saying that the team feels slighted by not always being mentioned within the group of elite West clubs.

“People still don’t think they’re that good,” the co-host of ESPN’s “Pardon The Interruption” show said of the Hornets. “Even if they win today at Detroit, they’re still going to be battling that.”

Meanwhile, Barry seemed to verify Wilbon’s assertion by saying that his top four teams in the West are San Antonio, the Lakers, Phoenix and Houston.

5) What will happen to the bench/rotation in the playoffs?
ABC showed a graphic in the first quarter that listed the lowest-scoring benches in the NBA. New Orleans entered Sunday ranked third-worst in the league in this category, at 24.2 points per game. Only Charlotte and Orlando’s reserves produce less offense than the Hornets’ subs.

Unfortunately, New Orleans provided more evidence to back up ABC’s concern about the second unit, getting outscored by Detroit’s backups, 53-22 (Hayes obviously had a huge chunk of that with his 29 points).

Brown said he expects Scott to reduce his postseason rotation to eight players, which would mean sitting two guys from what has usually been a 10-man rotation. It may be worth noting that during Scott’s ultra-successful tenure in New Jersey, he did not alter his rotation much in the playoffs, usually sticking with a nine- or 10-man rotation that helped the Nets get to two straight NBA Finals. Of course, those Nets teams were much deeper than the 2007-08 Hornets -- in fact, the 2002 Nets brought then-rookie Richard Jefferson off the bench for all 20 playoff games.

Brown asserted a couple times that the scheduling format for the playoffs, where you never play back-to-back days and often have more than one day off between games, makes it easier to give your starters 40-plus minutes and reduces the need for help from your bench. This is something worth watching as the team heads down the stretch, because if Scott is considering cutting his rotation in the playoffs, that makes the final 17 games even more important for guys who may be on the fringe and need to prove that they deserve to be on the floor in late April.