Five Observations: Magic 95, Hornets 88

Monday, November 19, 2007
By: Jim Eichenhofer, Hornets.com

Too many times last season, the biggest news following a Hornets game revolved around medical updates and the health of individual players. Unfortunately for New Orleans, that was again the case Monday night. Already playing without Chris Paul (sprained right ankle), the Hornets lost center Tyson Chandler for an undetermined period of time after he sustained a hyperextended right knee at 3:11 in the second quarter. Chandler underwent an MRI after the game and is being listed as day-to-day, meaning it’s unclear how long he will be out of the lineup. Meanwhile, Paul will be listed as questionable for Wednesday’s game vs. Indiana.

Even without their best all-around player and top defensive player, the Hornets nearly overcame a 21-point first-half deficit against the Magic. New Orleans (9-3) pulled into a fourth-quarter lead briefly, but Orlando picked up its NBA-leading 10th win by making several big plays over the final few minutes.

“(Paul and Chandler) anchor so much of what we do on both ends of the floor,” Hornets coach Byron Scott said. “To have both of them gone, obviously it hurts us. But we felt that we still had some opportunities to win the game and didn’t take advantage of them.”

Dwight Howard (24 points, 15 rebounds) and Rashard Lewis (19 points, 5 three-pointers) played big roles in ending New Orleans’ five-game winning streak.

Here are five observations from the seven-point defeat at the New Orleans Arena:

1) After an injury-riddled 2006-07, the Hornets have more experience playing shorthanded than most NBA teams. Will that help?

If there was a silver lining to the continual injuries that took place last season, it may have been that guys like Jannero Pargo, Rasual Butler and Chandler received far more opportunities to play and be featured in the offense than anyone expected. In his two starts Saturday and Monday, Pargo has been his usual aggressive self. He’s no stranger to the first string after being forced into the job last season when Paul and Bobby Jackson were sidelined.

“We’re used to this,” Scott said of not having his full complement of players. “We’re used to having guys out with injuries. All we can do is rally around our troops. Everybody in the locker room understands that it means other guys have to step up. All you look for in this league is opportunity. The guys who have been sitting on the bench get a chance to play, and the guys who’ve played a few minutes will get more now. We’ll see what happens.”

2) Scott on Jannero Pargo at the point: “A work in progress.”

Pargo’s role for the bulk of his six-year NBA career has been to provide instant offense and come off the bench firing up a boatload of shots. Despite being 6-foot-1, he’s much more of a natural shooting guard than a conventional, pass-first point guard, but he’s tried to develop that aspect of his game since he joined the Hornets. Learning how to run an offense on the fly at the NBA level is not an easy transition to make. Following Monday’s game, Scott sounded like he was pleased with Pargo’s progress, but that he’s not expecting Pargo to become a true 1 overnight. The Arkansas product finished with seven assists and four turnovers.

“He did OK. He played better last game (at Minnesota),” Scott said, when asked about Pargo’s performance as a fill-in starter. “He tried to create a little bit too much, got himself in some trouble and had some turnovers that hurt us. But he’s still a work in progress at that position. Last year was really his first opportunity to get extended minutes at point guard on a consistent basis. The one thing I talked about with him last year was making better decisions. He’s very capable of filling in for Chris, but he’s going to have his ups and downs.”

3) If Chandler misses time, what effect will that have on Hilton Armstrong?

Armstrong was spectacular during preseason, causing many observers to think that he was on the verge of a breakout year. He hasn’t been able to carry that performance into the regular season so far, though. His role and playing time have dipped recently, to the point where he didn’t enter Monday’s game until 1:23 remained in the second quarter. It was a good sign to see him play aggressively, including a big follow-up dunk among his four points and four rebounds. The Hornets were also plus-14 with Armstrong on the floor Monday, which was a team-best in plus-minus vs. the Magic. If Chandler is out, Armstrong will get another excellent opportunity to prove that he's a much-improved player from his rookie campaign.

4) Melvin Ely works back into the rotation.

It may have essentially been mop-up time Saturday, but Ely was very effective while scoring 10 points in the fourth quarter during the blowout win at Minnesota. He came through Monday with a second straight strong showing, tallying 10 points in 15 minutes. Ely dropped in three mid-range jumpers in the final quarter vs. Orlando, accounting for six of the hosts’ final 20 points.

It’s interesting to watch how Scott doles out minutes for Armstrong and Ely, because they have very contrasting strengths and weaknesses.

“Melvin’s obviously a better post player, but he lacks on the defensive end,” Scott described. “Hilton is a better defensive player, but lacks the post-up game. (The center position is) going to be by committee, basically.”

5) Both teams on the floor deserve credit for their 2007-08 starts.

I’ve heard a few basketball people recently postulate that the Magic and Hornets haven’t proven anything because their opening schedules have been relatively weak. While I agree that it’s far too early to reach any conclusions about anything only 12 games into the season, I don’t care who your opponents have been, if you’re 7-0 on the road – as Orlando is – that is mighty impressive. Meanwhile, the Hornets are 6-1 away from the New Orleans Arena. It’s never easy to consistently win on the road in the NBA, even against bad clubs.

Both teams are 3-2 at home, but look at who those home defeats were against: Orlando lost to Detroit and Phoenix, while New Orleans lost to reigning NBA champion San Antonio and Orlando.