Hornets.com postgame: Spurs 89, Hornets 86

Saturday, March 24, 2012
By: Jim Eichenhofer, Hornets.com

Spurs (32-14), Hornets (12-36)

It was over when… Marco Belinelli’s turnaround three-pointer from the left wing came up short just before the buzzer sounded, ending another tight defeat for the Hornets against the Spurs on their home floor. It was an eerily similar ending to the last time San Antonio visited New Orleans, when the hosts had a chance to win at the final horn but could not convert on a desperation three-pointer. The Hornets played well for much of Saturday in their follow-up to Thursday’s exciting win over the Clippers, but the end result was a familiar one for a team that has lost so many close games.

Hornets MVP: Jarrett Jack’s game was somewhat symbolic of the night overall for the Hornets. He turned in one of the best games statistically of his career, finishing with 27 points, seven rebounds and five assists, but committed a crucial discontinued-dribble turnover and came up short on a driving layup in crunch time. The Hornets were trailing by three on Jack’s drive to the basket; he explained that he was trying to get to the rim but his legs failed him (he played 37 extremely busy minutes, including 11-for-19 field-goal shooting) as he left the floor.

Hornets Sixth Man of the Game: Carl Landry showed Hornets fans some of what has been missing from the lineup during his 23-game absence, putting up 15 points in his first action since Feb. 4. Landry gives New Orleans an invaluable go-to guy and post-up option on offense, which the Hornets exploited against the Spurs. Landry took five of NOLA’s 12 foul shots, using his quickness to get past defenders around the basket. "I give a lot of praise to God for me being able to get back on the court," Landry said. "It definitely could've been a season-ending injury. I also give praise to the training staff. They did a really good job of preparing me for this day. I had a few butterflies because I didn't know how my conditioning was going to be. You can't simulate an NBA game."

The buzz on… the team's 17th different starting lineup. At this point it didn’t seem possible that there were any configurations that hadn’t been tried yet, but Saturday’s game saw a brand-new starter at four different positions. Greivis Vasquez had not started at shooting guard all season, while the same could be said for Marco Belinelli at small forward, Gustavo Ayon at center and Lance Thomas anywhere (Saturday was his first NBA start). Thomas said he found out at Saturday morning’s shootaround that he would be starting. When Chris Kaman became unavailable due to illness, it created a domino effect and resulted in Monty Williams having to do the largest lineup shuffle of the entire season – which is saying something. When asked prior to the game about the situation, Williams shrugged and said it’s become par for the course in 2011-12. After the game, Williams said he was content with the Hornets’ effort, even if it did not result in what would’ve been a gratifying second straight win: “I just love my team. I love my guys. As much as I complain and push, I just love my guys. Those guys fought and battled and have been dealing with adversity all year long. As much as I can be critical and push guys, at the end of the day it’s hard to find fault with that kind of effort and the way those guys battled. From this morning’s shootaround, I told them that we were probably going to be (shorthanded). Not one guy blinked an eye. They just said, ‘Hey, let’s go out and have some fun and play hard.’ We obviously made some mistakes in the game, but you’re talking about a team (San Antonio) that is destined to make a run at a title. With the way we pushed them tonight, I’m kicking myself because I couldn’t put us in a position to close that game out.”

Shootaround: March 24 vs. Spurs

Updates from Saturday morning’s shootaround in the New Orleans Arena:

• Jason Smith’s suspension leaves the Hornets with a maximum of 10 players available Saturday night. Trevor Ariza (sore right ankle) joins Emeka Okafor (knee) and Eric Gordon (knee) among the quartet of players who won’t play against the Spurs. New Orleans’ roster is at 14.

• It appears that Carl Landry will make his return to the lineup, after being out since Feb. 4 with a MCL knee injury. That’s the good news from this morning. The (other) bad news is that Chris Kaman was sent home from shootaround due to an illness. Kaman is being listed as a game-time decision.

• If Kaman can be ready by 7 p.m., the Hornets will have 10 players. If he isn't, the count is nine (Landry, Jarrett Jack, Greivis Vasquez, Marco Belinelli, Xavier Henry, Al-Farouq Aminu, Gustavo Ayon, Lance Thomas, Chris Johnson). Monty Williams did not give specifics in terms of how another reshuffled group will affect his starting lineup, but if Kaman is out, Johnson is the only true center. Ayon and Thomas can both play center, but are more suited to power forward.

• The Hornets have followed up quality performances with subpar ones in several instances this season, most recently when they lost a home clunker to the Wizards just 24 hours after taking the Lakers to overtime. “Carryover” is one word Williams is trying to stress to his team heading into the matchup vs. the Spurs. “That’s something I talked about this morning,” Williams said. “It’s something we haven’t done this year. When you have a big emotional win like (Thursday vs. Clippers), you tend to want to come in and chill like it’s Club Med. That is a sign of a young team that is not used to being in those positions. (But) I don’t think we’re going to have that tonight – I think we’re going to come out and play really hard.”

• Williams was visibly upset by what he perceives to be unfair treatment of Smith by the national media since Thursday’s flagrant foul of Blake Griffin. Smith missed 20-plus games with a concussion after being struck in the head twice against the Pistons on Feb. 4. Williams: “To me, as a league, I wish everybody would have gotten on their platform or soapbox screaming for Jason when he got knocked out in Detroit. He got knocked out twice – no foul, no flagrant (was called). And yet we’ve got guys on TV acting a fool, saying that (Smith’s) apology meant nothing. To me, that’s just wrong. What Jason did was absolutely wrong, I told him it was wrong, he apologized for it, he got (suspended) two games for it. Which I thought was warranted. But he didn’t get the same defense when he got knocked out in Detroit. We were looked at as a team that shouldn’t have been heard from (in terms of complaining). I just didn’t think Jason got the same defense as Blake got. And to me, that’s wrong.”

• Williams on what Smith’s approach to fouling Griffin should have been: “You grab a guy (and hold him). (What actually took place was) an unfortunate play. It was wrong. I thought Stu Jackson did a good job (handing out the suspension). There were so many things happening in that game, you couldn’t catch all of it.” Williams also complimented the three-man officiating crew for doing a good job on a night when there was a heated, testy on-floor environment almost right from the opening tip.

• Williams on Smith as a person: “(He’s) a kid who wouldn’t bother anybody.” Smith also has experienced a tragic year, including his father dying in an August 2011 car accident and the recent passing of Smith’s grandmother. Williams: “He’s lost his dad, his grandmother. He’s had one of the toughest years I’ve ever seen for a guy. And for a (commentator on television) to stand up and say that (Smith’s) apology meant nothing, that’s wrong. As a coach, I’m not going to let that slide.” Williams added that he has spoken with ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith, who appeared to be the media pundit Williams was referring to in his comments. “I’ve talked to Stephen,” Williams noted. “You can judge a guy’s motives (and say) that Jason tried to take a guy out. But don’t judge his contrition. You don’t know what another man is feeling. Jason was in (our) locker room for a long time questioning his (own) motives after the game. I talked to him twice yesterday, trying to pick his spirits up. Then you get a guy standing up and saying that (Jason’s) apology meant nothing. In essence (the media) has carried it on to the next game and made it worse, because now (fans) think that (Jason’s) apology meant nothing. That’s wrong. Those guys (media members) are supposed to do research. What Jason did was wrong. But if we’re going to be screaming, let’s scream for everybody. Not just one guy, or a few guys.”

Smith calls two-game suspension a fair punishment

Jason Smith spent a lengthy amount of time Thursday night pondering what he’d done on the much-discussed fourth-quarter play that sent the Los Angeles Clippers’ Blake Griffin to the floor and Smith to the New Orleans Hornets’ locker room with an ejection. After reviewing the play again on tape, the 7-foot power forward reiterated that he is sorry about what happened, saying that he apologized to Griffin multiple times.

“It looked bad,” Smith said Saturday of his flagrant foul. “After watching the film on it, that’s still something I never want to do again. I think I got caught up in the heat of the moment. It was an emotional game, a physical game. But there’s still no excuse for what I did. I want to make it blatant that I apologized to Blake. He’s an admirable player, very athletic. He’s a well-liked player. I just didn’t want to give up on the (play). When you see a person in transition like that, it’s hard to defend a person like that. Like I said, I think I got caught up in the heat of the moment and I apologized to Blake.”

Smith was notified by the NBA on Friday that he will be suspended for the Hornets’ next two games. That means Smith is not allowed to be in the New Orleans Arena tonight, or in the Staples Center on Monday, for games against the San Antonio Spurs and Clippers, respectively. “I thought it was a (fair) suspension,” Smith said of his reaction to the news. “There is no way to determine how many games you get suspended for certain actions. So I thought it was fair. You’ve got to take what you get and own up to it, and just learn from it.”

A few minutes before Smith spoke, Hornets head coach Monty Williams said he also agreed with the two-game punishment, but raised objections about the way Smith has been characterized by some national media members in the past 48 hours. Williams pointed out that Smith was struck in the head twice during the Feb. 4 game at Detroit, leading to a concussion that caused Smith to miss over a month of action, but virtually no one in the media objected or even noticed. Told of Williams’ comments about a possible double standard, Smith said, “It’s a crazy situation, but that’s not in my control. All I can do is go out there and play as hard as I can, go out there and try to win some games.”

Smith also released a statement Saturday. Here it is in its entirety: "I deeply regret the incident that took place during the 4th quarter of our game vs. the Clippers on Thursday night. Not only do I want to express my sincere apology to Blake Griffin and the Clippers organization, but also to all basketball fans that might have the impression from seeing the play, that it's okay to go beyond playing aggressive and attempt to injure someone during the course of a game. It's never been a part of my makeup to intentionally hurt anyone on the court, nor ever will be, and I have the utmost respect for Blake and the game of basketball to ever abuse it in any fashion. I also want to apologize to my teammates, coaches and Hornets fans for the consequences of my actions."