Hornets.com postgame: Hornets 105, Kings 96

Wednesday, April 11, 2012
By: Jim Eichenhofer, Hornets.com

Hornets (16-42), Kings (19-40)

It was over when… Jason Smith made one free throw to give New Orleans a 102-94 lead with less than a minute remaining. The Hornets have won three of their past five games, the first time they’ve done that since mid-February. New Orleans now heads into consecutive home games against Utah and Memphis on the weekend, two opponents who are vying for position in the Western Conference playoff race.

Hornets MVP: Just two games after he easily cleared his previous career high of 20 by scoring 26 points in a win over the Timberwolves, Smith posted the second-best offensive game of his four-year NBA career, with 22 against the Kings. The 7-foot power forward explained that he’s trying to be more aggressive during this final stretch of the season, which has resulted in unprecedented success. Just as impressively, he’s not taking a ton of shots to put up big numbers, going 10-for-12 on Wednesday. “It’s really trying to mix in not just pick-and-pop, but also pick-and-roll to the basket, or being able to do a little shot fake and get to the basket or to the free-throw line,” Smith said of the diversification of his game. “If you’re just a jump shooter, teams can just D up for that. If you’re (only) a jump shooter, there is not much else you can do.”

Hornets Sixth Man of the Game: Xavier Henry hasn’t shot well from the outside for most of the season, but as Monty Williams has said recently, the second-year pro may develop into a small forward (as opposed to a shooting guard), where perimeter accuracy isn’t as much of a must. Henry again played like a 3 on Wednesday by getting most of his baskets on drives to the basket. Only his first field goal came off a jumper; the rest were close-range layups and a fast-break dunk. “They don’t have a lot of shot-blockers,” Henry said of Sacramento, “so getting to the rim (was an emphasis) and not worrying about getting your shot blocked, attacking, is always good. I always try to be aggressive.”

The buzz on… one primary objective of the final two weeks. Prior to Wednesday’s game, Williams noted that the reason Trevor Ariza has been moved out of the rotation is that the Hornets want to give more playing time to the likes of Henry, Al-Farouq Aminu and Lance Thomas at Ariza’s position of small forward. With the playoffs well out of reach long ago, the focus is on 2012-13 and trying to determine which players have a future in New Orleans. Understandably, the players truly appreciate the chance to prove themselves. “It’s being smart,” 25-year-old Greivis Vasquez said of Williams’ approach. “He’s giving us experience. Not every coach does that in the league, to put a young guy out there so he can learn. As a young guy, you’ve got to take advantage of that. I went through a situation last year where I wasn’t even touching the floor (in Memphis) the first 60 or 70 games. But I was ready (late in the season and playoffs). You’ve got to be ready now, because they’re giving you an opportunity. Management is looking to the future, to see who’s going to stay and who’s not. But we can’t control that. We can only control how hard we play. That’s his decision, and we’re all going to take advantage of that.”

Shootaround: April 11 vs. Kings

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

• Eric Gordon (back) is listed as questionable to play in Wednesday’s game. “I’m not sure,” Hornets coach Monty Williams said of his status. “We’ll find out later on.”

• Although backup center Chris Johnson (concussion) was in the arena during shootaround, Williams said he did not participate in basketball activity. Johnson has been experiencing sensitivity to light since the injury, but hopefully his presence this morning was a positive sign.

• Asked whether Emeka Okafor (knee) will be “shut down” and ruled out for the season, Williams said, “I’m not sure. I’ll find out (if Okafor can return) when the trainers tell me.”

• The Hornets only have three games remaining against teams that are out of playoff contention, including tonight’s contest against Sacramento. Although you might think there isn’t much at stake, several Hornets would certainly say otherwise. “Our young guys are going to be in position to play big minutes,” Williams said. “Guys are going to have a chance to grow. X (Xavier Henry) and Chief (Al-Farouq Aminu), and we’re going to see if Lance (Thomas) can play some (small forward). We brought (Jerome) Dyson in to see if he can be a third guard in the league. We want to see Goose (Gustavo Ayon) play better. His game hasn’t been where it was in the stretch before the All-Star break.”

• Williams chalked up some of Ayon’s drop-off to a few mitigating factors. “He’s dealt with some injuries,” Williams said. “He’s had a shoulder issue all year, and his foot is bothering him. He doesn’t complain about it a lot, but I know he’s hurting. And he is worn out. He told someone that he didn’t understand how many games we play (in the NBA). Over there, they play one game a week. Here, sometimes you play four or five. That’s a lot, emotionally, and just getting ready for that every day can wear you out. And he just had a new baby, and Lord knows what that’s doing to his whole system. I think he’s tired, but I also think he can play better. These last few games are an opportunity for him.”

• Carl Landry has thrived coming off the bench lately, one development Williams cited for Ayon playing just 37 seconds in Saturday’s win over Minnesota. “Carl’s taken a lot of his minutes,” Williams said of the power forwards.