Five Observations: Hornets 114, Pacers 106

Tuesday, March 25, 2008
By: Jim Eichenhofer, Hornets.com

It may not have come in the most aesthetically pleasing fashion, but the Hornets opened their long six-game Eastern Conference road trip victoriously, staving off the Pacers in the fourth quarter. New Orleans’ All-Star duo played like stars in the clutch, with David West (35 points, 16 rebounds) and Chris Paul (31 points, 14 assists) combining for 22 of the team’s 28 fourth-quarter points.

The Hornets turned in a relatively porous defensive effort against an underrated offensive club, resulting in a tight final period, but finally slowed Indiana’s attack with the game on the line. “We were able to get crucial stops down the stretch,” West said. “We wanted to start the road trip the right way.”

Five observations after the eight-point victory at Conseco Fieldhouse:

1) Hornets clinch best record in six-year New Orleans span.
One aspect of the team’s program at home games asks season ticket holders to list their most memorable Hornets moment since the team moved to New Orleans in 2002-03. Two of the most common responses: Opening Night 2002 vs. the Utah Jazz (the first official game for the Hornets in the Big Easy), and the March 2006 game vs. the Lakers (the first NOLA game after Hurricane Katrina). While those were obviously landmark nights for the franchise, it’s telling that two of the oft-cited moments essentially don’t have anything to do with basketball or success on the court.

In the six seasons since the move, the Hornets have never advanced past the first round of the playoffs, have only now had two winning seasons – including this one – and have rarely appeared on national TV. In other words, there was a lot of room for improvement in this “second era” of New Orleans Hornets basketball.

This season has already been one of the finest in the 20-year history of the franchise and has the potential to go down in the books as its best ever. The Hornets haven’t won 50 games since the 1999-2000 season, but that’s now a virtual lock. The best record in team annals is 54-28. It would only take a 7-6 finish over the final 13 contests to exceed that.

2) Morris Peterson injury means more opportunity for Julian Wright.
Peterson left the game in the second quarter after being fouled hard by a Pacer. He sustained a bruised left shoulder and stinger in his left wrist. Since Mo Pete was unavailable in the second half, Wright took his place with the starting five. He finished with five points and was a little out of control at times, but made several minor contributions in 26 minutes. Wright was also on the floor during the final few minutes of the fourth quarter, the only reserve joining Paul, West, Tyson Chandler and Peja Stojakovic.

3) Chris Andersen makes season debut.
Anyone who expected the 6-foot-10 forward/center to immediately move into the rotation has been surprised to see him pick up only DNPs since signing with the Hornets on March 5. Three weeks later, Andersen got into a game for the first time Tuesday, playing six minutes.

He had an eventful stint despite making a brief cameo. Just 13 seconds after entering the game, Andersen already had a blocked shot and an offensive foul. Overall, Andersen was typically active at both ends of the floor. Meanwhile, Melvin Ely received the backup center minutes in the first half but went scoreless with one rebound in eight minutes of action. It bears watching to see whether Ely or Andersen will be the first center to enter the game Wednesday in Cleveland. Hilton Armstrong was inactive at Indiana.

4) The buzz on… Mike James.
There may be no better evidence of the Hornets’ improved depth than the fact that the seven-year veteran has not been consistently getting into games. The 6-foot-2 guard is behind Jannero Pargo in the team’s guard rotation, and with Bonzi Wells very well of late, the Hornets have not gone to small lineups as much as they did immediately after their Feb. 21 trade with Houston.

James received key fourth-quarter minutes in a few games in late February and early March, but he has not played double-figure minutes since the March 5 game vs. Atlanta. Overall, the Duquesne product has shot the ball better as a Hornet than he did in Houston this season (42.1 percent vs. 35.0), but he’s averaged only 9.0 minutes and is now essentially the team’s 11th man.

5) Blog question of the night: What’s been the most surprising aspect of Julian Wright’s ascension from seldom-used to key reserve?
The rookie from Kansas has played so well recently that it’s easy to forget that at the beginning of March he was still showing up on the inactive list. Entering Tuesday’s game, he was on pace to log more minutes in March alone than he had in the previous four months combined (255 minutes from Oct. 31 through Feb. 29).