Sure, its only one game. And in fairness to the Sacramento Kings, the shorthanded nature of their roster Wednesday the Kings were without two of their three best players made them a vulnerable opponent. Still, the Hornets had to be pleased with the outcome of Opening Night. New Orleans received nice contributions from multiple players and posted a 14-point victory, a margin that did not reflect the Hornets dominance. The hosts led by as many as 26 points and held a comfortable edge throughout the second half.
Here are five observations from Wednesdays game at New Orleans Arena:
1) David Wests ankle looks just fine, thank you.
Earlier in the week, there was talk that the 6-foot-9 power forward might miss both the Sacramento and Portland games, but he was in the starting lineup Wednesday, despite not practicing since last Friday. West immediately made an impact, dropping in eight first-quarter points, en route to a stellar all-around performance that included 17 points, eight boards and six assists. The Xavier (Ohio) product also bagged a three-pointer in the second quarter, just beating the shot-clock buzzer. After the game, I asked West who was 8-for-25 on trifectas in 2006-07 if he was planning to add the three-pointer to his offensive repertoire. No, man, West quickly responded, grinning. That (three-point attempt) was purely because the shot clock was winding down.
2) So much for preseason?
Both Peja Stojakovic and Morris Peterson shot poorly during the eight-game exhibition schedule, which may have raised concerns among fans, but the perimeter gunners looked like completely different players in Game 1 of the real season. Overall, the Hornets shot 50.6 percent from the floor, including 10-of-21 (47.6 percent) from three-point range. Stojakovic was 7-for-12 and bagged four treys, while Peterson went 5-of-8 and sank three long-range bombs.
3) A role reversal.
The reserves outplayed the starters during preseason, partly based on the struggles of West, Stojakovic and Peterson. The opposite was true Wednesday, as all five starters played well, while none of the backups distinguished themselves. NBA.com has added a plus-minus stat to its box scores this season, providing us with an instant look at how the Hornets fared with each player on the floor. The worst plus-minus for a Hornets starter Wednesday was Petersons plus-15, while the best reserve figure was Bobby Jacksons minus-1. The second unit was disappointing, Byron Scott frankly said during his postgame media session.
4) Time to talk.
New Orleans looked considerably more cohesive on both ends of the floor than it did during preseason. The Hornets appeared to communicate and rotate on defense more quickly and found the open man consistently offensively (Pauls 12 assists led the team, which totaled 23 dimes). Scott occasionally used a double-team trap with Tyson Chandler and Paul on Kings point guard Orien Greene that forced the other three Hornets to close on the other four Sacramento players. For the most part, New Orleans tactic was effective. The Kings scored few close-range baskets, especially in their halfcourt offensive sets. This is the real deal, West said when asked to explain why the starters seemed to be on the same page as a group. The preseason is
I dont want to say a gimmick, but you prepare for the start of the regular season. Our first five hasnt played a lot of minutes together, but as long as we do that, were going to get better.
5) The Hornets must capitalize on their veteran-laden roster.
New Orleans held a decided edge in experience over Sacramento, especially with Bibby and Artest out of action. Of the Hornets 10 guys who received playing time, their average years of NBA experience is 6.4 seasons (if you include 2007-08). Former Kings Jackson and Stojakovic are in their 11th and 10th years, respectively. Meanwhile, Sacramento had four players with three years or less experience on the court. New Orleans needs to consistently beat young opponents this season, especially at home, to achieve its goal of reaching the playoffs. Fridays foe, Portland, is also one of the leagues greenest clubs. The Trail Blazers best players, Brandon Roy and LaMarcus Aldridge, are both only in their second seasons.