Five Observations: Hornets 118, Raptors 111

Sunday, March 30, 2008
By: Jim Eichenhofer,

* Postgame quotes, notes

New Orleans (50-22) bounced back nicely 48 hours after a 20-point defeat in Boston, turning in one of its finest offensive performances of the season Sunday in Canada. The Hornets piled up 101 points through three quarters and held a seemingly insurmountable lead, but the Raptors found their shooting touch in the fourth quarter to cut the deficit to as little as six.

David West (32 points, 13-for-21 shooting from the field) made a big basket with 1:13 remaining, giving New Orleans a 114-106 lead that helped stave off Toronto. Peja Stojakovic (25 points, 5-for-7 on treys) and Chris Paul (20 points, 16 assists) also turned in prolific offensive nights for the Hornets.

Five observations after a road victory that gave the Hornets their first 50-win season in 10 years:

1) Offensive fireworks.
New Orleans registered its highest point total (not including 120- and 132-point wins vs. Phoenix) since a 123-point barrage vs. Seattle on Jan. 16, more than two months ago. The Hornets seemed able to create good looks at will against the Raptors, resulting in a 60 percent shooting night (48-for-80). West appeared headed for a potential career-best scoring game after the first half, but didn’t get as many touches after intermission. Two of the most efficient Hornets: Stojakovic scored 25 points on only 13 shot attempts, while Tyson Chandler tallied 17 points on nine FGAs.

2) Morris Peterson victorious in return to Toronto.
The Toronto TV crew discussed how several former Raptors who returned to Ontario were not greeted nicely in their first games back, because they didn’t leave on the best terms (Vince Carter, Tracy McGrady). That was definitely not the case with Mo Pete. Numerous fans arrived at Sunday’s game wearing the 6-foot-7 shooting guard’s old Raptors No. 24 jersey.

Peterson kissed the Air Canada Centre court, like Nuggets guard Allen Iverson did in Philadelphia on March 19, after receiving a nice ovation during the Hornets’ starting lineup introductions. The seven-year member of the Raptors had a decent game against his old team, draining a pair of treys among eight points, over 25 minutes of action.

3) The buzz on… Peja Stojakovic.
After another big three-point shooting night by the 6-foot-10 small forward, it’s worth noting that Stojakovic is having the best season of his 10-year career from beyond the arc. He entered Sunday’s game at 45.5 percent from three-point range; his previous best in the NBA is 43.3 during the 2003-04 season. Not coincidentally, that was the season that Stojakovic averaged a career-high 24.2 points and was mentioned as an MVP candidate early in that campaign, when Sacramento started superbly despite the injury absence of star Chris Webber.

It’s highly doubtful Stojakovic will ever get as many overall shot attempts as he did during his best Sacramento years - he averaged 17 shots a game in that 2004-05 year and is at 13 FGAs per night this season - but he’s doing as much with the shots he does get than at any point in his career. Keep in mind, this is a three-time All-Star we’re talking about here.

4) Scoreboard watching.
With the Hornets in the thick of an incredibly tight Western Conference race, over the remainder of the season we’ll be providing updates on games around the league that affect the team’s playoff status and seeding.

New Orleans entered Sunday ranked No. 1 in the West but needed to win to hold on to first place overall and in the Southwest Division, after San Antonio (51-23) pounded Houston 109-88. The Spurs are getting scary again, winning seven straight after a four-game losing streak that began with their loss in New Orleans on March 12.

Meanwhile, Utah sustained another bad road loss Sunday, falling to Minnesota 110-103. Although the Jazz (48-26) seem likely to grab the No. 4 seed in the West, remember that the Hornets - or any West contender - could wind up in the No. 5 spot yet STILL have home court advantage vs. Utah by finishing with a better record. That scenario happened in the 2007 playoffs when Houston was the No. 5 seed but had a better record than No. 4 Utah, resulting in Game 7 being played in Texas instead of Salt Lake City.

In other news, the Hornets’ magic number to clinch a playoff berth was down to 5 immediately after the victory in Toronto.

To calculate the team’s magic number, start by determining what the best record the Western Conference’s ninth-place team could achieve. At the moment, ninth place in the West is Golden State (44-28), which can finish no better than 54-28 (entering Sunday night’s key home game vs. Dallas). That means 55 wins would guarantee a playoff spot for the Hornets. Take 55 and subtract New Orleans’ current win total of 50, and that yields the Hornets’ magic number, now at 5.

5) Blog question of the night: How many games did you expect the Hornets to win this season?
New Orleans posted milestone victory No. 50 of the season Sunday and still has 10 games remaining. I challenge anyone to go back and find a preseason prognosticator who went on record saying that the Hornets would reach that lofty total, or finish any higher than seventh place in the Western Conference. When this season tipped off on Oct. 31, how many games did you think New Orleans would win? Be warned: will get our lie-detector test out if we have to.