Five Observations: Hornets 108, Bulls 97

Monday, March 17, 2008
By: Jim Eichenhofer, Hornets.com

Judging by the final score only, you would have very little indication of what actually took place Monday in the New Orleans Arena. This was anything but an easy victory for New Orleans. In fact, midway through the fourth quarter, it appeared as though Chicago would be on its way to a comfortable triumph.

New Orleans closed a huge comeback win by outscoring its guests 24-4 over the final 6:14 of the fourth quarter, turning a nine-point deficit into an 11-point win. The Hornets extended their home winning streak to seven (the last defeat was Feb. 25 vs. Washington).

The Hornets outscored the Bulls 33-13 in the fourth quarter after Chicago’s Ben Gordon (31 points, 5 treys) and Drew Gooden (23 points, 12 rebounds) combined to give the visitors a lead for a vast majority of the night.

“Chicago is one of those teams that when they get hot, they can beat anybody,” Hornets coach Byron Scott said. “In the third quarter, we put ourselves in a hole, but in the fourth quarter the guys came up big.”

Chris Paul continues to astound, piling up 37 points on 15-for-21 shooting and dishing out 13 assists. He had 16 points in the fourth quarter alone.

“Chris was fantastic on both ends,” Scott said. “He did a heck of a job (defensively) on Ben Gordon [the Bulls' guard was held to three points over the final 6:14]. On the offensive end Chris made the right plays at the right time. It was a great win against a team that we knew was going to be very dangerous.”

Scott later made some noteworthy comments on CP3. “You’re watching a future Hall of Famer, if he continues to grow and develop,” Scott told the media after the game. “So sit back and enjoy it while you can. Sometimes you marvel at some of the things he’s doing on the court. It’s getting to the point where he does it so much that it’s almost routine. We get to see it on a daily basis, which is fantastic.”

Five observations from the 11-point win Monday:

1) Julian Wright is evolving into team’s most effective reserve.
The rookie from Kansas was the first Hornet subbed into the game by Scott. Wright continues to make that decision look like a wise one by playing extremely well. Playing against his hometown team, the 6-foot-8 forward had one of his most efficient games to date, scoring 14 points while taking only eight field-goal attempts.

Earlier in the season, Wright rarely seemed to consider taking outside shots. Consider that entering March, he was 0-for-1 on the season from three-point range. This month, he’s gone 4-for-9 from beyond the arc. One reporter joked with Wright that he has gone from barely looking at the basket when he’s 22 feet away to becoming “Peja Junior.” Wright laughed at the “nickname,” saying he’s been working diligently on his perimeter shot. He was used mostly in the paint at Kansas, which meant he wasn’t asked to shoot outside a whole lot. During his senior season with the Jayhawks, he played 1,048 minutes but took only 13 three-pointers, making three.

2) Bonzi Wells “starting to fit in.”
Wells’ opening month with the Hornets has not gone according to plan, amid a bruised Achilles tendon injury and several ineffective games. But Monday was the best he’s looked as a Hornet, a 19-point, four-rebound outing.

“He’s really starting to fit in and understand what we’re doing,” Scott described.

If Wright and Wells can keep up this type of play, it will give Scott two excellent options off the bench. New Orleans has been searching for an answer at the 2 and 3 reserve spots all season.

3) David West’s absence affects rotation.
Ryan Bowen was given the starting nod Monday, even though Melvin Ely had one of his more effective games Sunday at Detroit. With West injured, both Bowen and Ely have an opportunity to get more minutes, but neither fared well vs. Chicago. Bowen went scoreless and had three turnovers over 12 minutes, while Ely only received four minutes of action. Scott went to a small lineup for much of the Chicago game, which was doable since the Bulls are a relatively undersized club.

West will be evaluated at practice Tuesday. His status for Wednesday’s game vs. streaking Houston is uncertain. “I would love to see him play against Houston,” Scott admitted, “but if he can’t play, we have another three or four days to get ready for Boston (on Saturday).”

4) The buzz on… Jannero Pargo.
Over the course of an 82-game season, many players experience peaks and valleys with their shooting touch. For whatever reason, right now the 6-foot-1 combo guard is struggling to make shots. In March, he’s just 25-for-81 from the field, or 31 percent.

“He’s not knocking down his shot on a consistent basis like he normally does,” Scott said, “but he did a great job on defense tonight.”

Despite his ineffectiveness of late at the offensive end, Pargo logged 24 minutes, almost exactly the same total time as starter Morris Peterson. Pargo came up with a huge fourth-quarter steal of a Chicago pass that led to a Tyson Chandler dunk and a 98-96 lead with 2:26 remaining.

5) Blog question of the night: How important is seed to the Hornets?
During the final month of the regular season, we’ll be including at least one Hornets-related question after each game for Big Easy Buzz visitors to comment on and discuss. With the Western Conference race more tightly-contested than perhaps any conference in the history of the NBA, how important do you believe it is for New Orleans to enter the playoffs with the best seeding possible?