Hornets.com postgame: Hornets 96, Heat 93

Friday, November 5, 2010
By: Jim Eichenhofer, Hornets.com

It was over when... Trailing by three points, Miami long-range specialist Eddie House misfired on a three-pointer from the left wing as time ticked away. New Orleans eventually secured possession, wrapping up the best start in franchise history and a landmark early-season victory over the star-studded Heat. The Hornets had been 4-0 twice this decade, but never 5-0. “I like this start. I love winning,” Monty Williams said minutes after the buzzer. “Different guys are stepping up. We’re going to win a lot of games if we defend like that and stay together.”

Hornets MVP: Emeka Okafor turned in his best game statistically as a Hornet in one-plus seasons, totaling 26 points and 13 rebounds. He finished 12-for-13 from the field. He was credited with four offensive rebounds, but seemed to get a piece of even more missed Hornets shots than that, scoring a few times off tip-ins. Okafor called his 2009-10 season “disappointing” individually, but he’s looked like a much different player so far. Minutes after the buzzer in the locker room, Hornets players presented Okafor with the game ball, a practice not regularly done in the NBA, but one that Okafor certainly deserved tonight.

Hornets Sixth Man of the Game: In 25 minutes, Jason Smith posted 12 points and six rebounds. The Heat often threw nearly all of their defensive attention at Chris Paul in pick-and-pop situations involving Smith, allowing Smith to launch from 18 to 20 feet. Smith missed early on, but later made Miami pay for that strategy by going 5-for-10 overall.
“He can shoot,” David West said. “He’s going to be able to stretch the floor and keep those defenders honest, not allowing people to load up and stay attached to Chris for longer than a dribble or two. That’s definitely to our benefit, to have a guy off the bench (like that). We’re not asking him to put the ball on the floor too much. He knows when he has an open shot, he’s got to take it.”
Paul: “Jason has been outstanding. He may not be a guy (opponents) talk about much on the scouting report, but I guarantee you he’s going to be on there now. We know what he’s capable of. Night in and night out he’s producing for us.”

The buzz on… Okafor’s improved offensive performance and increased role. Just four games ago, the Hornets’ starting center had the quietest night on offense of his seven-year NBA career, with zero field-goal attempts vs. Milwaukee. His 26-point output against Miami would’ve been surprising under any circumstances, but considering how little the Hornets were looking to him at that end of the floor recently, it was even more of an eye-opener.
Okafor explained that after he was field goal-less against the Bucks, Williams stressed to other Hornets players that they needed to focus much more on making sure they looked for Okafor in the paint. “Coach made it known that Mek is presenting himself, so make a concerted effort to look down there,” Okafor remembered. “I have to give my teammates all the credit. Ever since that point, they’ve done a good job of looking for me and keeping me involved. As a big, when you’re involved offensively and getting that ball, you feel more engaged. All of a sudden your wind (conditioning) is up, and your legs have more spring.”

Blog question of the night: Regardless of the makeup of the schedule, it's big news around the NBA that the Hornets are unbeaten through five games. But after you factor in the caliber of the teams New Orleans has played against (Milwaukee, Denver, San Antonio, Houston, Miami), it’s even more noteworthy. How long do you think New Orleans can remain undefeated? Over the next eight days, the Hornets only have three games, starting Saturday in Milwaukee. They host the Clippers on Tuesday and the Trail Blazers next Saturday, Nov. 13.