Expect 20 to 24 minutes for Okafor; Scott lists inactives

Wednesday, October 28, 2009
By: Jim Eichenhofer, Hornets.com

At shootaround in San Antonio this morning, Hornets head coach Byron Scott said he expects center Emeka Okafor to play “probably 20 to 24 minutes” against the Spurs. Scott also unveiled to reporters his unofficial list of three inactive players. The list included two players who are not 100 percent healthy – Ike Diogu and Sean Marks – as well as rookie Marcus Thornton.

“Marcus is a young player who is still learning,” Scott said of his decision. “He makes a lot of mistakes in practice. Devin (Brown) is a veteran guy who I think I can depend on a little bit better on both ends of the floor. It was a tough decision, but I think it was the right decision.”

Of his toe injury, Okafor said this morning that “it’s at a point where I’m not worried about it at all.” Okafor said he’s uncertain about how he will react from a conditioning standpoint tonight but will play as many minutes as Scott wants him to log.

“Game shape and practice shape are two totally things,” Okafor said. “I don’t think I will be too bad, but it’s something I will have to push through.”

Hornets.com postgame: Spurs 113, Hornets 96

The Hornets hoped that the start of the regular season would allow everyone to forget about their preseason woes, when they went 2-6 and weren’t competitive in several games. Instead, the exhibition-slate struggles carried over into a forgettable opener in San Antonio.

The Spurs dominated in virtually every aspect of the game, building a big first-half lead behind a 23-1 run. New Orleans missed 16 consecutive shots during a drought that lasted nearly 10 minutes. The Hornets never got back within striking distance after that, trailing by 18 at halftime and 20 through three quarters.

Several things to note from tonight’s 17-point defeat, a margin that did not reflect San Antonio’s overpowering performance:

• ESPN’s Jeff Van Gundy commented several times that New Orleans’ defense was not effective in cutting off virtually anything San Antonio was trying to do on that end. The Spurs were getting layups and open three-pointers, drilling six treys in the second quarter alone. Although the Hornets finished exactly at 50 percent shooting on offense, they weren’t getting many good shots during the back-breaking stretch of the game when the Spurs took control.

• The Hornets’ bench was completely outplayed while the outcome was still in question. At one stage with about three minutes left in the third quarter, the Spurs’ reserves held a 32-0 scoring edge.

• One true positive for New Orleans was the excellent Hornets debut of Emeka Okafor. Despite missing the entire preseason and only practicing the previous three days, Okafor was the second-best Hornet on the floor tonight (Chris Paul’s jumper was locked in during a 26-point game on 11-for-16 shooting). The 6-foot-10 center posted 18 points and 10 rebounds, scoring several hoops on post-ups in the paint.

• It was a combination of highlight-reel plays and mistakes for Julian Wright in the first opening night start of his three-year career. On one second-quarter play he dribbled through the entire Spurs defense for a resounding, soaring slam; on another sequence, he dealt with a 1-on-2 fast break by pulling up for an ill-advised 15-foot jump shot. The small forward finished with eight points in 28 minutes.

HORNETS POSTGAME QUOTES (courtesy San Antonio Spurs)
Coach Byron Scott

(On momentum changes)
“I think we started the game off pretty good and then as soon as we went to the bench we started to lose a little bit of our momentum. Their bench came in and did a phenomenal job. I think at halftime it was 30-0 in bench scoring and that was the biggest difference. Like we said before the game, this was going to be a big test for us against a team that has aspirations of winning a championship. We know we still have a long way to go and we have some work to do, but we already realized this was going to be a work in progress. With Emeka and a couple of the other new faces on the team, it’s going to take some time. I did like some of the things that I saw, and we will continue to work on some things that we know we need work on.”

(On off-the-ball team defense)
“About average tonight. I thought at times we could have switched certain things on pick-and-rolls. Lack of communication really hurt us and if we really want to be a good team in this league we’re going to have to learn to talk to each other, help each other and trust each other.”

(On Okafor’s performance tonight)
“He’s pretty good. He’s like a magnet for that ball anyway, so he’s coming over to block and give that weakside help defense. That’s something that he’s accustomed to doing. We’ve got to do a better job of adjusting when he does go. We’ve got to veer back and take the big guys off the glass, and we didn’t do a good job of that. Our guys have to understand that we have to stay focused on those things. It’s a lot of the little things tonight. I mentioned to our guys before the game when you play the Spurs and you have mix-ups and lack of communication, they will kill you. [The Spurs] capitalize on every mistake you make and I thought they did a good job of that tonight.”

(On the most impressive area of play from the Spurs tonight)
“I think it was their spacing. They keep Tim down there and they just play one in and four out. They do a really good job of just keeping their spacing and keeping their discipline on the perimeter. Guys are catching the ball and making their shots, and if they’re not making their shots, they’re looking to put the ball on the floor and create shots for the other team. They’re just a great team to watch and they’re going to be right there in the mix. But we know we have a long way to go and we’re going to continue to get better every day.”

Chris Paul
(on what he takes away from tonight‘s game)
“We can take a lot from this. We had some good signs today but we also had some bad signs but all in all, it was good to get back on the court to start the season so it wasn’t a complete loss.”

(on what the good things were that he saw in his team tonight)
“We did a great job starting off the game as we got into our sets really well and everyone seemed to know the offense and things like that. Emeka was outstanding, especially with this being his first game with us as I‘m happy to see the intensity he brought. As we continue to play together more and more we should get better.”

(on Emeka Okafor‘s performance tonight)
“Just to see after not practicing as much but yet tonight to be up at one time 10-4, it was due to him. Me and West talked about how long it‘s been since we‘ve had that opportunity to just drop it in the paint and get fast buckets like that, so I‘m happy with how he played.”

(on what he saw with the new additions of the Spurs tonight)
“Those guys came in and looked like they‘ve been playing with each other for years. Of course, they‘re going to have to get a little bit more comfortable but McDyess hit some big shots. It‘s the same old Spurs, just different people in those uniforms.”

Morris Peterson
(on when did the game get away from them)
“In the second quarter we let it slip away. It seemed like they were just hitting three after three, as we all know we have to play a 48-minute game and that’s where we went wrong. ”

(on grading the team‘s first season performance tonight)
“I would say incomplete, I have to watch the film and see. I saw some good things out there defensively but when you play a team like San Antonio sometimes you have to pick your poison. Early on, we tried to limit them in the paint and in return, we allowed them to get some 3-point shots. With them, sometimes you live and die by the three.”

(on the Spurs performance)
“They‘re one of the top 3-point teams in the league and one of the best teams in the league. With San Antonio, they‘re very smart as they‘re good at adjusting and tonight we just did not do a good job with that.”