Chris Pauls minutes increased in his second game back from injury, but his production tailed off, as the Hornets fell to the NBA-leading Cavaliers. Once again, Hornets rookies Marcus Thornton and Darren Collison were outstanding, leading New Orleans (34-39) in scoring and combining to tally 37 points and 12 assists.
With discussion these days centering on the usage and offensive exploits of those three talented backcourt players, its easy to overlook the fact that defensive performance has been the most telling barometer lately for New Orleans. In recent weeks, the Hornets have dropped off noticeably at that end of the floor, something that was evident against the Cavaliers, who shot 57 percent from the field.
After the game, David West agreed with a reporters assessment that defense is the area in which the Hornets must show the most improvement and consistency in order to win more games in 2010-11.
Tonight was an example of a team just attacking us, West said. (To improve on defense) there has to be trust and guys have to play for one another defensively. Thats what it comes down to. You have to really get after teams defensively.
More times than not teams arent beating us necessarily physically; they are out-thinking us and were falling asleep. Were not concentrating all the way through possessions and thats where weve been getting burned.
Paul didnt have one of his characteristic All-Star type games, finishing with five points, seven assists and two steals in 31 minutes. He was 2-for-8 from the field. Thornton led the Hornets with 20 points, after piling up 37 against the Cavs on Feb. 23 in Ohio. As expected, Cleveland devoted more attention to the LSU rookie.
You could tell I was more of the focus this game, Thornton said. I had a few of the same shots, but missed some that I made up there (in Cleveland). You have those type of nights.
New Orleans dropped to 9 games behind eighth-place Portland, which will visit the Hive on Saturday. A loss by the Hornets in that game will mathematically eliminate them from playoff contention, regardless of what happens in other action.