Hornets fifth-year coach Byron Scott knows that if his team is to have any chance of advancing in the Western Conference playoffs, it must receive significant contributions from a larger portion of the roster. Over the past few weeks, New Orleans (49-31) has become increasingly reliant upon All-Star players Chris Paul and David West. The duo has put up some impressive statistics and done just about everything possible to try to will the Hornets to victories, but New Orleans has still gone just 5-6 since March 25.
In this afternoons victory over the Mavericks (48-32), Paul and West remained dominant, but this time the balance of the rotation chipped in with a few much-needed, huge fourth-quarter plays.
New Orleans was at its best in the final period, outscoring Dallas 33-23 to notch a crucial win as teams jockey for playoff positions. The Hornets are now almost assured of finishing as either the sixth or seventh seed. In fact, the only scenario remaining that would lead to New Orleans winding up eighth is this: two Hornets losses, two Mavericks wins and two Jazz wins. If all six of those results occur, Dallas would take sixth place and Utah (47-33) would overtake New Orleans for seventh based on a head-to-head tiebreaker.
Todays game was deadlocked as late as 4:11 remaining in the fourth, but the Hornets closed with a 16-6 run. Peja Stojakovic and James Posey both returned recently from injury and have been struggling to make perimeter shots produced two of the back-breaking plays for the hosts. Stojakovic canned a three-pointer from the right corner to give New Orleans a 98-92 lead with 1:09 left. Posey then secured a defensive rebound in traffic and tossed in two free throws to make it a three-possession game at 0:26.
The emphasis today was to get Peja and Rasual (Butler) more shots, Scott said. The last few games, teams have really done a good job of staying home with those guys (defensively). We had to do a better job of creating shots and setting better screens for them.
Although neither wing player broke out of his recent shooting slump, the result was a combined 23 field-goal attempts for Stojakovic (4-for-11, 11 points) and Butler (5-for-12, 13 points). In Fridays loss to the Mavericks, each player took only seven attempts from the floor.
I wanted to make sure we started the game getting other people involved, Scott said. Chris and David can beat their (defenders) pretty much anytime they want. But we cant beat teams with only those two guys. We need other guys to contribute. We wanted to make a concerted effort to make sure Peja and Rasual were involved.
HORNETS POSTGAME QUOTES
Overall I think we did a real good job on Dirk (Nowitzki
), unfortunately he took some tough shots but defensively I think we were pretty solid. I think we stared to understand that we needed to close out quarters on a positive note. Second quarter wasnt very good for us but in the end of the quarter we did a pretty good job of getting us back into the game.
San Antonio is fighting to stay in that fifth spot and we are right behind them in the sixth spot. Its crazy in the Western Conference but I wouldnt have it any other way. I think its exciting, fun and a true competitor comes out when its like this.
On the game: We played a little bit better and had some more guys contribute. I feel like we had a better collective effort today.
On his and Chris numbers: We understand that is what it is going to take. We are not going to back down from that challenge. Every time we can win this late in the season is going to be a good thing.
On the game: It his was a great win for us. Especially giving the circumstances the way we started off the game in Dallas, but it give us a better shot at securing that sixth spot. I think if we win tomorrow night we lock it up.
We are all about winning. Obviously you want to be seeded as high as possible, but it is all about us playing well. So whatever team we get, I think we will be fine with. To win in these last two games gives us the sixth spot. And that is what we are shooting for.