It was over when… Chris Paul drew an offensive foul on Kevin Martin near the left sideline with 31 seconds remaining and the Hornets up 99-94. After Houston’s Aaron Brooks was subsequently ejected for back-to-back technicals, Paul drained a pair of free throws to make it a three-possession margin and virtually seal a 4-0 record. That equals the Hornets’ best start in franchise history.
Hornets MVP: New Orleans’ TV crew has started calling Paul “The Closer” for his fourth-quarter exploits, and justifiably so. In yet another game that wasn’t decided until the final few minutes, the sixth-year pro was ultra-clutch in crunch time. Paul finished with 25 points, including 13 in the fourth quarter. Monty Williams allowed Paul to rest for about half of the final period, keeping him fresh for the late moments. It paid off, with the three-time All-Star draining six straight free throws to help hold off the Rockets and scoring three key baskets.
Hornets Sixth Man of the Game: Like Paul, backup big Jason Smith saved his best moments for the fourth quarter, a stanza in which New Orleans piled up 34 points. Smith finished with a career-high 14 points, including eight in the fourth. Smith got red-hot from the 20-foot range early in the period, drilling three consecutive jumpers. Smith on his scoring burst: “There were a lot of pick-and-roll (plays). Chris (Paul) comes off really hard (off screens). I just had to be prepared to shoot at any time.” On the Hornets’ perspective after their fantastic start to 2010-11, Smith added: “We’ve just got to keep on playing hard. We can’t be satisfied with 4-0. We’ve got to keep getting good wins on the road and keep playing hard at home.”
The buzz on… the Hornets’ shooting guard position. The tandem of Marco Belinelli and Marcus Thornton has given Williams a pair of options at the two spot, allowing the first-year coach to dole out the majority of minutes to whomever has the hot hand. In Wednesday’s game, the nod went to Belinelli, who got rolling in the third quarter, scoring 11 quick points, including three three-pointers. Belinelli finished with 18 points for the game. While everyone can often get overly preoccupied with who starts and who comes off the bench, in some respects that can be a bit overrated in situations like this. Thornton likely will get more minutes than Belinelli when the LSU product performs better, and vice versa.
Blog question of the night: Almost by law, NBA writers are required to mention that it’s still early in an 82-game season, so I’ll add that caveat, but how has your perception changed of the Hornets over the past seven days? The general consensus nationally about the 2010-11 Hornets in preseason was that they would struggle to make the playoffs, with some publications projecting an 11th- or 12th-place finish in the deep Western Conference. Plus, if you read too much into a 1-7 preseason, there was even more reason for concern. Thinking back to Oct. 27, before the opener vs. the Bucks, how much differently do you view New Orleans’ talent and prospects for this season now?