Hornets.com postgame: Hornets 94, Nuggets 92

Wednesday, April 4, 2012
By: Jim Eichenhofer, Hornets.com

Hornets (14-40), Nuggets (29-25)

It was over when… Jason Smith intercepted Corey Brewer’s crosscourt inbound pass, then held on to the ball as the final buzzer sounded, wrapping up a dramatic New Orleans victory. Eric Gordon, playing for the first time since Jan. 4, sank the go-ahead free throws with 2.1 seconds remaining, a perfect way to cap his comeback game. It was the second time in his three games played that Gordon converted on what turned out to be the game-winning play. On Dec. 26 at Phoenix, the shooting guard drilled a jumper to give New Orleans a one-point victory.

Hornets MVP: In one of the Hornets’ most balanced efforts of the season, six different players reached double figures in scoring, headed by 15 points apiece from Gordon and Trevor Ariza. Chris Kaman was next in line with 14 points, but also contributed 10 rebounds and five blocked shots. Against a Denver team with several talented wing players, the advantage Kaman gave New Orleans in the paint made an immense difference. The 7-footer’s six baskets included two dunks and a critical late putback.

Hornets Sixth Man of the Game: Partly due to the fact that he missed a couple games due to injury, it’s been easy to overlook the way Carl Landry has played since his return to the lineup on March 24 vs. San Antonio. In five games, the 6-foot-9 power forward has tallied 15, 14, 20, 24 and 12 points. Tonight’s dozen points was his lowest scoring output in this stretch, but he still got to the foul line eight times (though the career 77.7 percent shooter uncharacteristically went just 4-for-8 there). His aggressive drives to the rim in the first half resulted in nine points, keeping the Hornets within striking distance.

The buzz on… Gordon’s first game in three months. Perhaps not unexpectedly given his layoff, it was a struggle for Gordon in the early going Wednesday. He didn’t crack the scorebook until 2:52 remaining in the first half, when he dropped in a pair of free throws. His first field goal came around 9:30 of the third quarter, when he drained a three-pointer. His second overall shot of the game was an airball, a rare occurrence in his four-year NBA career. By the end of the night, however, the Hornets were running the game’s most important possession through the December 2011 trade acquisition. “I was anxious to get out there,” said Gordon, who finished 3-for-11 from the field. “I was trying to find my rhythm at the same time. It was the first game for me in a long time. In the first half, it showed.” The 23-year-old said his knee felt fine after playing 34 minutes, a few more than his projected 25 to 30. “That was the plan,” Gordon noted, “but you’ve got to look at winning time (in the fourth quarter). We were up pretty much the whole game and too much in the moment to have players (sit) out (due to a minute restriction).”

Shootaround: April 4 vs. Nuggets

The latest updates from this morning’s shootaround in the New Orleans Arena:

• With Eric Gordon in a New Orleans uniform tonight for the first time in exactly three months, Monty Williams said he expects to try to limit the shooting guard to between 25 and 30 minutes. “Any time you get a guy like Eric back, you’re excited,” Williams said. “But the last thing I want to do is put unnecessary pressure on him to come out and do stuff that is unrealistic. It’s his first game back. We just need to play better as a team.”

• Williams said Gordon will be in the starting lineup, joining Jarrett Jack in the backcourt. The rest of the first string is TBA, though it seems likely Jason Smith will remain in the mix. Al-Farouq Aminu and Lance Thomas started at the forward spots Sunday in Phoenix. Making things more complicated is that Williams said Trevor Ariza and Carl Landry will both be able to play tonight.

• Williams, on if the final 13 games are an “interview” for Gordon: “I know he’s capable of being an All-Star someday. These games won’t change that. Going forward as a team is what I’m looking at. How does (Gordon) mesh with Jarrett and how does he play with (Chris) Kaman? What does (Gordon) give us on defense? Those kinds of things are more important to me than evaluating how many points, rebounds and assists (Gordon gets). I’d like to see him lock some guys up (on defense). I’m excited to see that, because I don’t think people understand how good he is on defense.”

• As a result of Gordon taking over the starting shooting guard role, Marco Belinelli will move to the bench for only the fifth time this season in 54 games. The native of Italy averaged 15.8 points on the five-game road trip, shooting 48 percent from three-point range.

• By recent Hornets standards, the roster is actually relatively healthy for once, with a total of 12 players expected to be available. Among the club’s 14 players, only Chris Johnson (concussion) and Emeka Okafor (knee) have been ruled out for Wednesday vs. Denver.