Hornets.com postgame: Hornets 108, Pacers 96

Sunday, April 3, 2011
By: Jim Eichenhofer, Hornets.com

Hornets (44-33), Pacers (35-43)

It was over when… the Hornets burned extra time off the clock by grabbing an offensive rebound while leading 107-94 with about 1:15 remaining. New Orleans had led by as many as 25 points in the third quarter, but Indiana forced the hosts to put their first-string players back in the game after a fourth-period rally. The Hornets were only able to reduce their magic number to 2, because the Rockets prevailed Sunday in a tight game vs. the Hawks. However, New Orleans’ victory eliminated Phoenix from postseason contention.

Hornets MVP: Emeka Okafor played the kind of inspired basketball you might expect from someone whose college alma mater will play in the NCAA title game Monday vs. Butler. Okafor finished with 14 points and a season-high 17 rebounds, including seven on the offensive end. After his stellar performance, a smiling Okafor took exception to comments Chris Paul made on Twitter earlier in the day that accused Okafor of only “claiming” UConn since the Huskies made it deep into the tournament.

“Man!” Okafor reacted when asked about Paul's tweet, before explaining his side of the story. “So I wore this UConn shirt that I’ve been wearing repeatedly throughout the whole year. But my (Hornets teammates) just noticed it now because UConn is in the championship game. I’ve worn sweats, I’ve worn hoodies, I’ve worn I don’t know how much throughout the whole year. But since I wore stuff the day after we won (in the Final Four on Saturday), everyone’s saying, ‘Oh, you’re claiming it now?’ ”

As further evidence of his Huskies support, Okafor pointed out that he attended UConn’s Elite Eight victory over Arizona, which was held in Anaheim, Calif. The proud UConn graduate said he hoped to be able to fly to his hometown of Houston to watch the Huskies in person on Monday night when they play for a national championship vs. Butler, but with the Hornets in the middle of a playoff push and practicing Monday and Tuesday morning, it’s too difficult logistically to pull off a trip.

Hornets Sixth Man of the Game: Aaron Gray has been praised by Monty Williams frequently in recent weeks for his efficient work in the paint, often providing a significant amount of production in relatively small portions of playing time. The 7-footer delivered another one of those games Sunday, totaling eight points (4-for-5 shooting) and three rebounds in 14 minutes. Incidentally, fellow reserve Willie Green had nine points and led the bench for most of the game in scoring before some late points by Jarrett Jack. With the Hornets picking up win No. 44, that represents the most regular season victories for any team Green has played for in the NBA. The 2004-05 Philadelphia 76ers went 43-39 in Green’s second season.

The buzz on… a chance to clinch a playoff spot Wednesday in the Hive. After having to sort through complicated scenarios over the past week-plus, the consequences are extraordinarily easy to understand when Houston (41-36) pays a visit to New Orleans. If the Hornets prevail, they will wrap up a playoff berth in front of their home fans, officially returning to the postseason after a one-year hiatus.

Houston edged out Atlanta on Sunday evening, meaning that New Orleans’ magic number is 2 following a simultaneous victory over Indiana. The Hornets are obviously hoping that there is no need for any further study of playoff permutations after Wednesday, but should the Rockets prevail in the head-to-head matchup, they will remain alive at least until Friday.

However, now that the Suns have been eliminated there are only nine teams mathematically alive in the Western Conference. So any combination of Hornets victories or Rockets losses the rest of the way that equals or surpasses 2 means New Orleans is in the playoffs.

Following Wednesday’s key game, the Hornets’ slate includes a home game Friday vs. Phoenix, a trip to Memphis next Sunday, a home game vs. Utah on April 11 and a visit to Dallas on April 13. Houston still plays vs. Sacramento (on Tuesday), vs. Clippers, vs. Dallas and at Minnesota.

Coincidentally, the Hornets’ first chance to seal a playoff berth comes against a familiar team for several of their players. Trevor Ariza and David Andersen spent the entire 2009-10 season with Houston before being traded in the offseason to NOLA and Toronto, respectively. Carl Landry played 2 1/2 seasons for the Rockets prior to them dealing him to Sacramento midway through last season.

“I’m sure everyone will be juiced up, hooked up and ready to go,” Landry said of Wednesday’s game. “I’m sure Houston is going to come out swinging with everything they’ve got, because they know what’s on the line. It’s really going to be an important game for us. It’s a big game.”

Blog question of the night: Various columns arguing for each side have been written in New Orleans recently about the Carl Landry/Marcus Thornton trade. What’s your assessment of the deal roughly six weeks later?