Hornets.com postgame: Rockets 95, Hornets 84

Monday, March 16, 2009
By: Jim Eichenhofer, Hornets.com

No Tracy McGrady. No Yao Ming. No chance for Houston, without its pair of perennial All-Stars? Think again. Houston (44-25) exhibited its impressive depth, as several lesser-known Rockets produced in a big spot, allowing the visitors to post a key win in the Southwest Division race.

New Orleans (41-25) sustained its first home defeat since the All-Star break, dropping 1 1/2 games behind Houston. The Hornets had a chance to move up to third place in the Western Conference standings, but instead fell back into the scrum of teams grappling for spots in the latter half of the top eight.

Six different Rockets reached double digits in scoring, including reserves Carl Landry (12 points, 6 rebounds) and Von Wafer (12 points, 5 assists). Another Houston sub, Kyle Lowry, made several big plays and was on the floor in crunch time as a result. The Rockets outscored the Hornets 51-37 in the second half, despite the absence of Yao (illness), who was ruled out of tonight’s game a couple hours before tip-off. McGrady is out for the season with a knee injury.

“I thought after we got the lead in the third quarter. Houston just got a lot more aggressive,” Hornets coach Byron Scott said. “They were just putting their heads down and going to the basket. We weren’t doing that.”

A tendency to settle for jump shots contributed to New Orleans shooting only 39.7 percent from the field. For the second straight game, the Hornets shot poorly from the three-point arc. They were 0-for-11 in Chicago on Saturday there and went 3-for-11 tonight.

“We got a lot of great looks tonight,” said Chris Paul, who shouldered a big load again with 29 points, six rebounds and 11 assists. “We’re a team that’s going to win games when we make shots. The defense has done pretty well all year. But tonight neither one was great, and that’s usually going to lose the game.”

One glance at the boxscore also showed that the Hornets were too reliant on Paul individually, as well as their starters as a whole. Paul, Rasual Butler and David West all logged 41-plus minutes, more than any Rocket. “(They are) just playing too many minutes, but what’s my other choice?” Scott said after the game. “Those guys can’t do it on their own, and they can’t play the whole game, so we’re going to have to figure out something.”

Byron Scott

On losing the 11-point lead: “They got more aggressive, and we slowed it down, almost like we were trying to protect the lead instead of taking it to the next level. We have to give them credit for staying within themselves and coming at us more aggressively when we had such a big lead.”
On the next game: “I told the guys that we have to take care of business Wednesday, we can’t think about the next 4 games here at home. We have to think about Minnesota that is all that we should be concerned about. We don’t need to get on a slide going the other way, we need to get back on the winning track.”

Tyson Chandler
On what happened in the third quarter to turn the game in the Rockets' favor: “They just did a good job of getting into the paint and to the free throw line. That pretty much carried them throughout the game with the points in the paint and the free throws that they made.”
On two consecutive losses: “We had a tough loss in Chicago. It was a tough loss here again at home in a game that you want to win.”
On his injured ankle: “I just don’t feel like my ankle is healed. It was dragging me out there. It was a tough time (tonight). I’ll get some treatment and see how it goes.”

Chris Paul
On the loss: “It was a tough loss for us….We had a great chance to take five in a row and they were without Yao….We lost one that we should have won.”
On the second half: “We went up 55-44 and then we had some empty possessions and they started to get going. We got in foul trouble. They got just about everything that they wanted in the second half with lay ups and free throws and that’s what hurt us.”

Key Southwest Division clash vs. Rockets tonight

Second place in the Southwest Division and – more importantly – third place in the Western Conference will be at stake at 7 p.m. tonight, when the Hornets (41-24) host the Rockets (43-25). The winner of tonight’s game will also take a 2-1 lead in the season series, with one more meeting scheduled for April 13 in Houston.
“It’s a great matchup,” Hornets coach Byron Scott said this morning during shootaround. “It means a whole lot in the standings and in conference play. It’s important for us to get off to a good start on this five-game homestand, playing against a team that’s been playing very well.”
Like New Orleans, Houston is 11-4 since the All-Star break. The Rockets have been very successful despite Tracy McGrady being out for the season due to knee surgery.
“A lot of times when you have one of your key guys injured, other players are determined to step up,” Scott commented on the Rockets. “Some roles change. Plus, they are aggressively seeking to go to Yao more. They’ve got it in their mind that ‘Tracy’s not coming back so we’ve just got to step up our play.’ ”
On the Hornets’ injury front, Peja Stojakovic will not play, missing his seventh straight game. The Hornets are 4-2 since Stojakovic last played, March 2 at Philadelphia. Scott provided a brief update to New Orleans media members this morning. Here’s the Q&A:

Q: Are you surprised it’s taking this long for Peja to return?
Scott: Not really. Sometimes it’s slow, sometimes it’s fast. Peja being in his early 30s, maybe that has something to do with it as well.

Q: You don’t seem overly concerned about it right now?
Scott: I’m not – unless (trainer) Terry (Kofler) tells me something different. It’s the same thing as last week: there’s some stiffness, and he’s a little sore. Once we can get all of that taken care of, we’ll go from there… (now that the team has returned to New Orleans) we’ll probably be a little bit more aggressive in trying to get him back as quick as possible.

Q: How much do you miss him?
Scott: Big-time. He’s one of the guys who can spread the floor (due to his long-range shooting). When he’s not in the game, it makes it a lot tougher on us, no doubt about it.

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