Five Observations: Jazz 77, Hornets 66

Tuesday, April 8, 2008
By: Jim Eichenhofer,

Do not adjust your computer monitor. That was the final score after 48 minutes of action Tuesday between two Western Conference playoff qualifiers. New Orleans (54-23) hasn’t had many unsightly performances during its surprising rise to the top of the Western Conference this season. Tuesday’s game vs. Utah (52-26) was one of them.

The Jazz held the Hornets to 11, 15 and 16 points in the last three quarters, respectively, ending New Orleans’ overall winning streak of five games and home skein at 11. The Hornets’ run of home success dated back to the late February game when Washington’s DeShawn Stevenson canned a three-pointer at the final buzzer.

“Nobody played well,” Hornets coach Byron Scott assessed. “For the first time in a long time, nobody had a good game. It happens. When I looked at the stat sheet after the game, I thought no one played up to his capability. When you’re playing against Utah (and do that), you’re not going to win.”

Five points after the double-figure loss at the New Orleans Arena:

1) 1) Head-to-head point guard matchup goes to Williams.
It’s been well-documented that 2005 NBA Draft No. 3 overall pick Deron Williams has often outplayed 2005 NBA Draft No. 4 choice Chris Paul when they’ve faced each other over three seasons. It happened again Tuesday. Although Williams did not have a great game by his standards, going 2-for-11 from the field and scoring only four points along with six turnovers, he handed out 16 assists. Paul had arguably his poorest game of 2007-08, finishing with four points, nine assists and three turnovers. With Hornets backups slowly cutting into the Jazz’s lead in the fourth quarter, Scott waited until about four minutes remaining to bring Paul back into the game. Normally, he would’ve gone to CP much earlier, but the Wake Forest product was struggling for much of the game. Utah emphasized denying Paul as much as any opponent has all season. Scott said that strategy made it even more imperative that the other Hornets made open shots, but they failed to capitalize in that category by misfiring all game.

2) All-Star power forward duel a draw.
The David West vs. Carlos Boozer matchup is an interesting one, with both guys consistently able to drain 18-footers, along with the brawn to power their way to the bucket for post-up scores. This was not a good night for either, as both turned in identical 5-for-14 shooting outings. Boozer was extremely quiet until the second half, scoring eight of his 10 points in the third quarter. The Duke product grabbed six rebounds. Meanwhile, West had 14 points (only two in the second half) and pulled down seven rebounds.

3) Hornets update on Utah fan site.
I took a few minutes earlier Tuesday to quickly try to answer a handful of questions from the blog My Utah Jazz (including bailing on the one about which players would I pick from the Jazz and Hornets – when you think about it though, there ARE a lot of close calls: Paul vs. Williams, Stojakovic vs. Kirilenko, Boozer vs. West). I also discussed the (lack of Hornets) postseason experience theory, which I’m starting to wonder if it's a little overblown. Thanks to the guys at My Utah Jazz for participating in our Rival Report and letting me fill them in on the Hornets. These teams could very well end up facing each other again in the playoffs. If they do, New Orleans obviously will have a lot of concerns in a matchup that has not gone well recently.

4) Scoreboard watching.
The most important team from a New Orleans perspective, division rival San Antonio, was idle Tuesday. The Spurs host Phoenix on Wednesday. Meanwhile, the Lakers tipped off at Portland earlier this hour and have a chance to pull within a half game of the Hornets. Other key West games Tuesday that are underway but not completed: Seattle at Dallas; Denver at the Clippers; Sacramento at Golden State.

5) Blog question of the night: How do you rank current West seeds 2 through 6 in terms of NBA Finals potential?
On Sunday, we discussed whether Dallas, Denver or Golden State would be the best matchup for New Orleans in the first round. Tonight we’ll assess the remaining five West contenders – San Antonio, the Lakers, Utah, Houston and Phoenix. Of those clubs, how do you rank their potential chances of capturing the Western Conference championship in the 2008 postseason?

Hornets No. 2 behind Celtics in four media polls

An impressive 5-1 Eastern Conference road trip, followed by consecutive home wins over New York and Golden State, made New Orleans a consensus No. 2 choice in national media power polls this week. Sporting News ranks the Hornets third.
Time for our weekly look at where the Hornets rank among the 30 NBA teams in the polls. Comments are by the respective websites: (2nd, up 1 spot from 3rd the previous week): “The team absolutely no one thought would still be here aced their week, beating playoff-caliber squads in Orlando and Golden State, while avoiding a pair of trap games against Eastern Conference doormats New York and Miami. With Golden State desperately needing a win Sunday, Chris Paul dropped a triple-double on the Warriors (16 points, 13 assists and 10 rebounds) to seal the perfect stretch for his Hornets.” (2nd, same as previous week): “So much for the idea that Sunday's appearance on the ABC stage would expose the Hornets' lack of big-game experience. Next question: Anyone else looking forward to Friday's MVP showdown between Kobe and CP3?” (2nd, same as previous week): “So far their lack of inexperience hasn't hurt them much in these final weeks. Sunday's win over the Warriors made it five straight and 10 of 11 overall as they home in on the best record in the West. Meanwhile, Chris Paul's MVP candidacy is booming at the right time.”

Dime Magazine (2nd, same as previous week): “If the Hornets secure the No. 1 seed in the West and end up facing some no-defense team like Denver in the first round, can you imagine the terror Chris Paul will unleash upon Anthony Carter and Chucky Atkins and whoever else the Nuggets will put on him? Which brings up a good question: If you’re George Karl, do you go with Allen Iverson on CP and leave him there alone?” (3rd, down 2 spots): “Failed in the second half of their test at Boston but rebounded nicely with three-straight subsequent road wins in the East.”