Hornets.com postgame: Suns 92, Hornets 75

Sunday, April 1, 2012
By: Jim Eichenhofer, Hornets.com

Suns (26-26), Hornets (13-40)

It was over when… Channing Frye glided in for an easy dunk after snaring a loose ball with 2:50 remaining, giving Phoenix an 85-70 lead. Playing the final stop of a five-game road trip, New Orleans sputtered in the second half, getting outscored 25-17 in the third quarter to make it a 17-point Phoenix lead. After playing shorthanded in several games earlier this week, the Hornets wound up with a 1-4 trip and will mercifully head back home in the wee hours of Monday morning. They’ll host Denver on Wednesday after being able to squeeze in a rare practice on Tuesday.

Hornets MVP: Marco Belinelli continued what’s been one of the best weeks of his NBA career, tying Jason Smith for team scoring honors with 14 points. Belinelli was 6-for-14 from the field to go with seven rebounds. The starting shooting guard averaged 15.6 points on the five-game road trip and went 14-for-29 from three-point range.

Hornets Sixth Man of the Game: The Hornets were plus-10 when Greivis Vasquez was on the floor, but minus-27 when he wasn’t. He was the only New Orleans player to finish above 0 in that department. In more conventional statistical measures, the backup point guard notched seven points and six assists in 23 minutes, but was 2-for-8 from the field.

The buzz on… the Hornets’ most improved player. During halftime Sunday I asked fans on Twitter to name whom they believe has made the biggest strides as a player since the beginning of the 2011-12 season. I cast my vote for Jason Smith, who ended last season seemingly as a fringe rotation player (behind David West and Carl Landry on the depth chart at power forward), but has emerged as a quality contributor and no worse than a very good frontcourt reserve. Smith was asked by Monty Williams to “stay in his box” on offense in 2010-11, meaning don’t try to do too much and don’t put the ball on the floor unless it was absolutely necessary. This season, Smith has been much more than just a spot-up shooter on offense, showing aggressiveness finishing around the basket, as well as utilizing his athleticism and leaping ability to rebound and defend more effectively. Vasquez and Gustavo Ayon also have shown substantial improvement, though it’s difficult to completely gauge Ayon in that category because he may have been underestimated from the beginning in terms of his NBA-readiness. Belinelli, Al-Farouq Aminu, Xavier Henry and Lance Thomas were also mentioned multiple times by fans as Hornets who are better players now than they were back in December.