The same Hornets shots that found the bottom of the net 24 hours earlier were clanging off the rim. Instead of spending the fourth quarter pulling down key rebounds and altering Portland shot attempts, center Tyson Chandler was sitting in the Rose Garden locker room after being whistled for two technical fouls. No, Wednesday’s outing in Portland didn’t bear much resemblance to Tuesday’s dazzling win over the Lakers – or to any of New Orleans’ previous four games, for that matter.
The result: the Hornets’ initial defeat of the season and an end to their franchise-record-tying 4-0 start to 2007-08.
Portland used a 32-15 third quarter to go up by 12 entering the final period. New Orleans rallied to put a scare into the Blazers, but couldn’t convert on several key looks at the basket in the final three minutes. Hornets reserve guard Bobby Jackson drained a three-pointer at the final buzzer, to make it a slightly deceiving one-possession final margin.
Here are five observations from Wednesday’s game in Oregon:
1) He’s sometimes an “oh by the way” in conversations about the Hornets, but David West is playing outstanding basketball.
The average fan or basketball analyst knows all about Chris Paul’s ballhandling and leadership skills, Tyson Chandler’s rebounding and shot-blocking prowess, and Peja Stojakovic’s track record of perimeter accuracy. But what do people think of when they hear the name David West? The 6-foot-8 power forward remains an under-the-radar type despite leading the Hornets in scoring each of the past two seasons. West played one of the best games of his career Wednesday, equaling a career-high with 34 points and grabbing 18 rebounds (the latter stat was one board shy of his career-best). Portland TV analyst Mike Rice said West is known more for his perimeter touch than his inside post-up game, but noted that West was “playing more like Shaquille O’Neal” on Wednesday. His first three buckets each came after he caught a pass near the paint and powered through or around Portland defenders. He also scored three hoops as a result of his offensive rebounds. He finished 14-for-26 from the field and 6-for-6 from the foul line.
2) The Hornets missed Tyson Chandler with the game in the balance.
Chandler was ejected with 3:36 left in the third quarter, after he fervently expressed frustration with the lack of a foul call on a close-range shot attempt. On the play that raised his ire, Chandler had been accidentally grazed in the face by a Trail Blazer under the basket. Though New Orleans fought back in the fourth quarter without the 7-foot-1 center, the absence of Chandler late appeared to be costly. The Hornets gave up several key offensive rebounds to the Blazers in the final few minutes, and with the path to the hoop less daunting, Blazers guard Brandon Roy tallied two point-blank layups in crunch time. After the game, Byron Scott said West and Chris Paul were upset with Chandler for getting the automatic boot that comes with two technicals. “Tyson losing his cool really hurt us,” Scott said. “(Paul and West) weren’t very happy. David made some choice words after the game and rightfully so. David is a man of few words, but when he speaks, he’s going to tell you the truth. Tyson is a guy we can’t afford to lose, and especially to something as stupid as that. He knows that. So I didn’t have to say anything to (Chandler). Hopefully he’ll learn from it.”
3) A rough night for Peja in his first back-to-back of 2007-08.
After missing the final 69 games of last season to injury, we’re not going out on much of a limb to predict that people around the league are paying close attention to see how Stojakovic fares in the second of back-to-back games. In fact, Portland’s TV crew mentioned it a few times during last night’s broadcast. A night after Stojakovic went 10-for-13 on three-pointers and piled up 36 points at the Lakers, he finished with only five points in 35 minutes of action, going 2-for-13 from the field. The Hornets’ next back-to-back set comes Sunday and Monday, when they play at Philadelphia and at New Jersey.
4) The biggest thing wrong with the offense Wednesday? The shooting.
Without the benefit of going back and analyzing the tape, I thought the Hornets got basically the same caliber shots at Portland as they did the night before in the Staples Center, though the Trail Blazers certainly were better defensively than the Lakers had been. The major difference Wednesday was that the Hornets’ open looks weren’t falling. The team’s most feared outside threats – Stojakovic (2-for-13), Rasual Butler (0-for-3), Morris Peterson (2-for-5) and Jannero Pargo (1-for-3) went a combined 5-for-24. New Orleans won’t win many games shooting like that, and the Hornets finished at a season-low 39.1 percent from the field Wednesday.
5) A non-productive game from the bench.
Headed by Jackson and Butler, the reserve unit had been a key to the Hornets’ 4-0 start, but the backups were quiet Wednesday. New Orleans only got six points from the second string through three quarters. Overall, the bench was outscored by Portland 31-16 (Jarrett Jack had 20 of those Blazers backup points). Jackson and Hilton Armstrong made a few key plays during the Hornets’ fourth-quarter rally, but Butler was a non-factor in 25 minutes of action. Melvin Ely got five minutes of PT, while Julian Wright made a cameo early in the fourth quarter and committed two turnovers. The subs finished a combined 6-for-21 from the floor.
Hornets.com MVP: West was the obvious choice here, with 34 points and 18 rebounds. Chris Paul was the only other Hornet with a strong performance, tallying 18 points and 12 assists. “It was a shame, because we wasted a great effort by David,” Scott said of the loss, “and a pretty good effort by CP. We didn’t have enough guys (play well).”
Hornets.com Sixth Man of the Game: Armstrong notched seven points and three rebounds in 10 minutes of action, his best offensive production so far.