Hornets.com postgame: Hornets 106, Suns 100

Friday, March 25, 2011
By: Jim Eichenhofer, Hornets.com

Hornets (42-31), Suns (36-35)

It was over when… Phoenix misfired on multiple three-point attempts in the final seconds, enabling New Orleans to prevail a few hours after learning that leading scorer David West will miss the rest of 2010-11 with a torn ACL. The Hornets took another big step toward ensuring that they’ll be one of the squads to qualify for the Western Conference playoffs, while handing the Suns a costly defeat. New Orleans reduced its magic number to just 6 over Phoenix and Houston.

Hornets MVP: This could’ve gone to virtually any of the five Hornets players who cracked double digits in scoring, but under the circumstances of having to step into the starting lineup, let’s go with Carl Landry. The power forward finished with 19 points, on 8-for-16 shooting, and grabbed six rebounds over 31 minutes of action.

Hornets Sixth Man of the Game: As he’s done repeatedly over the last few weeks when given significant minutes, Jarrett Jack delivered in a big spot. The backup point guard deposited 17 points in an efficient 7-for-11 performance. Jack also had five assists and two steals.

The buzz on… picking up the slack with the club’s top point producer and second-leading rebounder sidelined for the final 10 regular season games. David West’s absence leaves the Hornets without a clear-cut second offensive option behind No. 2 scorer Chris Paul (16.4 ppg). As a result, it’s likely going to require a collective effort like Friday’s performance for New Orleans to be successful against the remaining formidable opposition in the regular season and (hopefully) postseason.

Between Trevor Ariza, Emeka Okafor, Marco Belinelli, Carl Landry, Willie Green and Jarrett Jack, the Hornets have six different players who are all averaging between 8.0 and 10.8 points per game. On Friday, four of those Hornets surpassed their scoring average, while Okafor managed to grab 12 rebounds and dropped in a critical putback in the final minute. Only Belinelli made minimal contributions.

That’s the kind of near-teamwide increase in production that would allow New Orleans to wrap up a playoff spot perhaps during the team’s upcoming five-game homestand. The Hornets were already headed for underdog status in the first round of the playoffs no matter whom they faced, but that’s even more the case now. Monty Williams has said all season that his roster is filled with players who have something to prove after being traded or discounted by other NBA teams. For some Hornets, the next few weeks may represent the best chance they’ve ever received to show their true value in the league.

Blog question of the night: What would you consider a successful season? Now that West will not play again in 2010-11, does that change your definition of what would qualify as a success for this team?

Two-time All-Star West out for season with torn ACL

At about 4 p.m. Central time, the worst possible news was delivered on David West’s status: He will miss the remainder of the 2010-11 campaign, including a potential Hornets trip to the playoffs, with a torn ACL in his left knee. The two-time All-Star power forward is New Orleans’ leading scorer (18.9 ppg), second-best rebounder (7.6 rpg) and go-to guy in clutch situations, with numerous key fourth-quarter baskets, including a game-winner vs. Oklahoma City in January. As it turns out, his 2010-11 season came to an end following yet another momentous basket, a dunk at Utah on Thursday that tied the game with just 22 seconds left in regulation.

West averaged 35.0 minutes per game and appeared in 70 of the team’s 72 games prior to the injury. Always highly conditioned entering each NBA training camp, the 6-foot-9, 240-pounder has been one of the NBA’s most reliable and durable players. Since the Hornets’ full-time return to the Big Easy in 2007-08, for example, the Xavier (Ohio) product appeared in 76 games or more for three straight seasons.

Though we’ll learn more later tonight from head coach Monty Williams in terms of Williams' plans for distributing minutes in the absence of West, it’s likely that trade-deadline pickup Carl Landry will move into the starting lineup and receive a large portion of that playing time. Jason Smith could potentially return to the more substantial role he filled early in the season, when he helped spark New Orleans to an 8-0 start and 31-16 mark through late January. Smith averaged 18.0 minutes per game in October and November, but that figured has dwindled in March to 6.3, partly due to Landry’s arrival. In Thursday's overtime win vs. the Jazz, Williams also relied at times on a big lineup that included Aaron Gray at center and Emeka Okafor shifting over to power forward.

With 10 games remaining on the regular season schedule, the Hornets will now attempt to clinch a trip to the NBA playoffs without their biggest offensive weapon. It’s not a guarantee based on the math, but it’s probably reasonable to think that if New Orleans can secure at least a split of the final 10 games, a postseason berth will be the result.