Five Observations: Hornets 84, Nets 82

Monday, November 12, 2007
By: Jim Eichenhofer, Hornets.com

An 11-point Hornets comeback over the final four and a half minutes. A Morris Peterson four-point play with 1:00 remaining that pulled New Orleans even. A 12-foot game-winning basket by Chris Paul with 2.6 seconds left.

Things looked rather bleak for the Hornets late in Monday’s game, before Peterson and Paul authored a pair of momentous plays, part of a game-closing 16-3 run that resulted in a tremendous early-season victory.

New Orleans improved to 6-2 and will host Philadelphia in the Big Easy at 7 p.m. Wednesday. The Hornets have only been 7-2 once in their 20-year franchise history.

With many of his teammates struggling offensively, Paul finished with a team-best 27 points, including eight fourth-quarter points and the game-deciding hoop. After a defensive rebound, the Hornets elected not to call timeout with about 15 seconds left, allowing Paul to dribble upcourt. He got a half step on Jason Kidd, then fired up an off-balance mid-range shot that banked in off the glass from the right wing. After a timeout to advance the ball to halfcourt, New Jersey’s Antoine Wright came up short on a fallaway 20-footer from the top of the key, sealing New Orleans’ thrilling win.

“I don’t know how we won this game,” Hornets coach Byron Scott said, alluding to the circumstances his team had to overcome in the fourth quarter. “These were the kind of games that we probably would have lost last year. But it tells a lot about the resiliency that we have on this team.”

Down 82-78, Peterson made the biggest play of his brief Hornets tenure by sinking a three-pointer from the right wing with 1:00 left. He was fouled on the shot by New Jersey’s Jason Collins, then made the free throw.

Here are five observations from Monday’s Hornets win at the Izod Center:

1) Chris Paul’s improved jump shot is making him even more dangerous.
During Sunday’s game, 76ers TV analyst Bob Salmi described Paul as “T.J. Ford with a jump shot,” meaning that Paul is just as quick as the Raptors’ lightning-fast point guard, but a better shooter. It appears as though Paul will be able to rely on his perimeter game more heavily in his third NBA season. He’s looked more aggressive and confident in his three-point shot and is 7-for-16 so far from beyond the arc. On Monday, he seemed to sense the need to move away a bit from his customary pass-first approach, and ended up taking 21 shots (the next-most FG attempts was Peja Stojakovic’s 12 tries). Of Paul’s 11 baskets, he made three three-pointers and three other deep jumpers.

2) New Orleans’ road success is an encouraging sign.
The Hornets improved to 4-1 on the road and now have impressive away victories under their belts against three projected playoff teams – the Nuggets, Lakers and Nets. New Orleans would love to better its 15-26 road record from 2006-07 and is off to an excellent start. The Hornets have five more road games this month (Memphis, Minnesota, Utah, L.A. Clippers, Atlanta).

3) Hornets win “ugly,” which is one mark of a good NBA team.
Prior to Monday’s game, Scott said that being able to pull out victories on bad offensive nights “is the next step for our team.” New Orleans shot only 42.1 percent from the field at New Jersey (granted, they were an outstanding 11-for-17 from the three-point arc) and committed 16 turnovers, yet still managed to pull out a gritty two-point win. Every team has bad shooting nights, but if the Hornets can lean on their defense – which held the Nets to 40.8 percent shooting – they’ll be much more consistent this season.

4) The rotation is still TBD.
Scott said before the game Monday that he is still trying to get a feel for how he will distribute minutes to his backups. One evident change that has occurred over the past two games is that Ryan Bowen is gaining prominence, which has partly led to Melvin Ely’s minutes being reduced. Ely did not play Monday, nor did Julian Wright. Scott told his players that the rotation is a work in progress. Scott said “it’s going to take me a little while” to sort out specific roles and minutes for some of the second-unit guys.

5) Ryan Bowen is earning more minutes by doing the “little things.”
The eighth-year role player ranks 12th of 12 Hornets players in scoring average and may reside there in the stats all season. He went scoreless Monday, attempting just one shot. So why was he on the floor in crunch time at New Jersey? Because he’s quietly done an excellent job defending, rebounding and making hustle plays. One play Monday summed up Bowen’s subtle contributions: After New Jersey rookie Sean Williams grabbed a defensive rebound, Bowen didn’t give up on the play and was able to tip the ball away from Williams. After losing the ball, Williams immediately nudged Bowen, resulting in a loose-ball foul call. I don’t think Bowen got tangible credit for a steal or a rebound, but the play meant a change of possession and an extra team foul against the Nets. “You don’t see much in his stat line, but he was all over the place,” described Hornets radio host Joe Block of Bowen. The 6-foot-9 forward played a season-high 15 minutes. Scott also assigned Bowen to Richard Jefferson (32 points) on the game’s final possession; Bowen denied Jefferson, preventing the Nets from getting the ball to their best offensive player.

Hornets.com MVBee of the Game: Paul finished with 27 points, six rebounds, seven assists and three steals. His lone blemish was his five turnovers, but he more than he made up for it by drilling the team's first game-winning basket of 2007-08.

Hornets Sixth Man of the Game: No one excelled stat-wise, but we'll give it to Bowen for his floor burns and energy. Bowen had two steals and three rebounds.