Five Observations: Hornets 108, Warriors 96

Sunday, April 6, 2008
By: Jim Eichenhofer, Hornets.com

The Hornets have been moving into uncharted territory on what seems like a daily basis throughout this incredibly successful 2007-08 regular season. On Sunday, they inched a step closer to another first over the 20 years of this franchise. On national TV, New Orleans (54-22) equaled the most wins in a single season in team history by erasing an early deficit against Golden State (46-31), then later regaining command in the fourth quarter.

Chris Paul’s day mirrored his team’s: He struggled in the early going to find his shooting touch, but ended up with an effective performance. Paul notched his fourth career triple-double, with 16 points, 10 rebounds and 13 assists.

Two of the team’s other big offensive weapons, David West and Peja Stojakovic, produced 25 points apiece. Jannero Pargo was excellent off the bench, tallying 15 points, including three three-pointers.

Five observations from the 12-point victory at a raucous New Orleans Arena, where the Hornets won for the 11th straight time and played in front of a sellout crowd for the 10th time in the last 15 outings:

1) Chris Paul outduels Baron Davis.
It could’ve been called “Chris Paul for MVP Day” at the Hive, with the team giving away free Chris Paul bobblehead dolls to fans, along with free black and teal T-shirts that endorsed Paul’s candidacy for the MVP trophy, and cheer cards that read “Geaux Hornets” on one side and “CP for MVP” on the other.

The 6-foot Hornets point guard responded by netting career triple-double No. 4, his first of this season. While Golden State’s Davis started the game much better than Paul did, the former Hornet cooled from the field as the afternoon progressed, going 8-for-22 and scoring 17 points. Davis ended up with eight assists. For the second time this season, Davis was heavily booed by Hornets fans whenever he touched the ball.

Paul made an interesting point about his career triple-doubles after the game, saying that it’s much harder for him to get the rebounds he needs since Tyson Chandler joined the team.

Don’t be mistaken, it’s not that CP was complaining. If you look at his stats, you can see what he means: As a rookie before Chandler was on the club, Paul averaged a career-best 5.1 boards a game. Last season, he was at 4.4, while entering Sunday his 2007-08 rebounding average was 3.9. Paul said playing against Golden State increases his chances of getting double-digit boards, because the Warriors take so many perimeter shots that are more likely to result in long rebounds that a guard like Paul can track down.

2) New Orleans Arena makes a statement on national TV.
Before the game, I spoke with ABC play-by-play guy Mike Tirico, who said what many people believe about the West playoffs: Seeding of teams probably won’t make much difference. Unlike the East, where a few teams are vying to avoid Boston and Detroit in the first round, there are no clear favorites or obvious patsies in the West field. However, Tirico believes that the Hornets’ great recent success in the New Orleans Arena – combined with how much of a factor the home fans have been compared to early in the 2007-08 season – will be the largest positive of securing the No. 1 seed.

“I think (the Hornets’ homecourt advantage) is getting up there,” Byron Scott said, when asked about the crowd. “I think it’s in the top 10 (of the NBA). I was yelling to Chris Paul to take the last shot at the end of a quarter today, and probably back in November he could’ve heard me a lot easier. I told him, ‘It’s getting pretty tough for you to hear me when I’m trying to scream and yell at you.’

“So, the homecourt has been terrific. The fans that we had early in the season were very boisterous and loud. The fans and the type of support we’re getting right now is unbelievable.”

“Early in the season, everyone was trying to knock our crowd,” Paul said, before alluding to the game being televised by ABC. “But today on a national stage, people really got to see how much of a factor our crowd has become.”

By the way, we’ll have more detailed coverage of ABC’s broadcast and some of the comments made by Tirico and Hubie Brown in the blog over the next couple days.

3) The buzz on… the X-factors.
The player who bears the most watching in the Hornets’ starting five right now is Morris Peterson, who has been up and down shooting-wise since early in the season. He only played 15 minutes Sunday, with Scott giving some of those minutes to Pargo (30 minutes) and Bonzi Wells (21 minutes). The other four starters have gotten into a very nice groove with little fluctuation from game to game.

Meanwhile, the bench would get a huge boost if Hilton Armstrong can become more consistent. Armstrong dropped to 10 minutes Sunday and demonstrated more ball-security concerns near the basket. Tyson Chandler was in persistent foul trouble Sunday, but the Warriors use small lineups so often that it was not a big deal for the Hornets to not have a 7-footer on the floor at times. Against rugged West teams like San Antonio or Utah, it will be.

4) Scoreboard watching.
Obviously, the biggest other game from the team’s standpoint Sunday will take place in Portland at 5 p.m. Central time. The Spurs (52-24) have a relatively difficult game against the Trail Blazers, who now have best player Brandon Roy back in action. Roy is listed as day-to-day but is expected to play.

The Hornets’ magic number to seal the first division title in franchise history was at 4 following their win vs. Golden State. The Spurs’ division-crown hopes will be in severe jeopardy if they lose later today, or any game for the rest of the season, for that matter. They may need to run the table, and even if the Spurs do win out to finish 58-24, the Hornets (54-22) would only need to go 4-2 in their final six to claim the division, because New Orleans holds the tiebreaker. Other games of interest in the West today are Dallas at Phoenix (right now on ABC); Lakers at Sacramento (8 p.m.), Denver at Seattle (8 p.m.) and Houston at Clippers (8:30 p.m.).

5) Blog question of the day: What is the best/worst first-round matchup for the Hornets?
During Saturday’s ESPN coverage of the NBA, the network’s analysts discussed that it is likely New Orleans will face Dallas, Denver or Golden State in the first round of the playoffs. ESPN said Golden State would be the most ideal matchup of those three from a Hornets perspective, based mostly on the Warriors’ defensive weaknesses. They listed the Nuggets as the worst matchup, due to the star duo of Carmelo Anthony and Allen Iverson. Do you agree?