After a 4-0 start that opened eyes around the league, New Orleans dropped its second straight game Friday, this time to the defending NBA champs. The Hornets led by as many as nine early and played the Spurs evenly throughout the first half, but San Antonio used a 29-18 third quarter to go up 81-63 after three quarters. New Orleans rallied back in the early portion of the fourth period behind its second unit, before San Antonio closed out its second straight win.
Here are five observations from the Hornets 12-point defeat at the New Orleans Arena:
1) Mo Pete and Peja struggle from the perimeter.
For a second straight game, the Hornets starting shooting guard and small forward had tough outings offensively. The pair combined to go 4-for-18 at Portland, then went 3-for-14 vs. San Antonio (Peterson was 2-for-8, Stojakovic went 1-for-6). Its difficult to pinpoint how Stojakovic can look so spectacular in a game like Tuesdays in Los Angeles, when he canned 10 three-pointers, then follow it up with two straight bad shooting games. Byron Scott blamed himself somewhat Friday for Stojakovic not getting enough touches, resulting in only the six field-goal attempts. Overall, New Orleans shot 43.2 percent from the floor and failed to reach 90 points for the first time this season.
2) Bobby Jackson and Rasual Butler are getting rewarded with key minutes.
In games when Peterson and Stojakovic are playing below par, its nice for Scott to have the option of going to Jackson and Butler, whove done a commendable job in the first 10 days of the season. With the Hornets trying to make one last-ditch attempt at coming back Friday, Scotts lineup of choice consisted of Chris Paul, David West, Tyson Chandler, Jackson and Butler. Jackson finished with 12 points in 25 minutes, which was three more minutes than Peterson played. Although he only tallied two points Friday, Butler played just three minutes less than Stojakovic, including the entire fourth quarter.
3) When you watch the Spurs, its easy to see the benefits of playing together for several years.
San Antonios core group of Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, Bruce Bowen and Tim Duncan have all been members of the Spurs for six straight seasons Ginobilis entire NBA career. The cohesiveness that the Spurs commonly exhibit is something that takes time to build, and a trait the Hornets would love to be able to display more in the future. After a 2006-07 season in which New Orleans shuffled players in and out of the mix due to widespread injuries, the Hornets still have many contributors who are not yet completely familiar with their teammates games. On a few occasions Friday, San Antonio converted easy baskets that resulted from perfectly-timed passes that can be partly attributed to the fact that Spurs players have a great comfort level after playing in so many big games together in the past. Theyre a very disciplined, experienced team, Scott said of the Spurs. If you beat them, its because you beat them, not because they didnt show up. They bring it every night. Theyre not going to beat themselves. Theyve won championships together and have been together too long.
4) Too much perimeter shooting, not enough running.
Scotts biggest complaints in his postgame chat with reporters Friday were that a) the Hornets stopped attacking the rim after the first quarter and b) they didnt create transition opportunities when they had opportunities to fast break. Against an opponent that executes as well as San Antonio, you definitely dont want to end up in a slow-paced, halfcourt game. We didnt push the ball the way we wanted to against (the Spurs), Scott said. I thought we were a little passive and started settling for jump shots instead of trying to get to the basket. We didnt attack and we didnt run. I dont know if it was fatigue or what, but we just didnt play our style of basketball.
5) Another encouraging game by Hilton Armstrong.
One of the best developments individually for the Hornets during their two defeats has been the increased aggressiveness displayed by the second-year center. The UConn product scored a season-high 10 points Friday on 4-for-4 shooting, with two offensive boards in 15 minutes. After notching a total of six points in his first three appearances of the season (Sacramento, Portland, at Lakers), the 6-foot-11 Armstrong has collected 17 points over the last two games. He missed the Denver game due to the flu.
Hornets.com MVBee of the Game: Chris Paul racked up 18 points, seven assists and two steals, while going 8-for-15 from the floor. The other starters were 13-for-40 on field goals (32.5 percent).
Hornets.com Sixth Man of the Game: Hilton Armstrong played his best game of 2007-08 so far, scoring 10 points and grabbing two boards in 15 minutes.
Hornets.com intriguing matchup: Paul played well, but Spurs point guard Tony Parker held the upper hand, with a 27-18 edge in scoring. Parker, who averages fewer assists than most point guards (entering Friday at 5.2 apg), also handed out eight dimes.
We'll have some new content on the blog Saturday, as we get ready for the two-game East Coast trip to Philadelphia and New Jersey. I'll also be blogging after the Philadelphia game with more thoughts on the Hornets as they try to snap their two-game losing streak.