It was only eight days ago, but so much has changed since the last Phoenix-New Orleans matchup on Nov. 11. The Hornets have a new head coach, as well as a new starting point guard due to Chris Paul's ankle injury. Meanwhile, Phoenix has continued to build on its impressive start to 2009-10, entering tonights game (7 p.m., TNT) at 10-2.
In the previous meeting, the Suns ran roughshod over the Hornets, piling up 75 first-half points and prevailing 124-104 in Byron Scotts final game at the helm. New Orleans (4-8) players know they must perform significantly better to have a chance to beat Phoenix this time.
Of primary importance, the Hornets must find a way to slow down the Suns high-octane fast break, which created countless open shots on Nov. 10. In a twist on the best offense is a good defense cliché, New Orleans best defense vs. Phoenix could be improved offense. The Hornets cant afford to shoot poorly, which often ignites the Suns transition chances at the other end when they grab defensive rebounds and outlet the ball to Steve Nash.
We need to get back to get into our defense being set, Jeff Bower said at shootaround this morning. Thats easier said than done. We have a transition defense scheme weve been working on over the last few days. It all starts with sprinting back and getting into coverage zones.
The status of Hilton Armstrong (sprained right shoulder) was being evaluated during shootaround, but he's expected to be available. Bower said his inactive list would be determined after the walkthrough. Paul and Ike Diogu will be two of the three names listed as inactives.
Bower provided an update on Diogu: He continues through his rehab process. Hes not ready to (play). He is hoping to test it further later this week in practice, which would be a step forward. Its still a situation where as he increases his activity, that will determine (when he will make) his return.
Having been routed by Phoenix eight days ago and that was with Chris Paul healthy and in uniform it was reasonable to wonder if New Orleans could even be competitive in the rematch vs. the Western Conference-leading Suns. But the Hornets didnt just keep it close against the high-powered Suns (10-3) in a nationally televised game they registered their best win of the young season.
With big contributions from numerous Hornets (5-8), the hosts delivered a surprising outcome, winning their second straight game of a three-game homestand. After beating the Wests best, the Hornets host East-leading Atlanta on Saturday.
More from several of the key Hornets during tonights excellent victory in the New Orleans Arena:
Darren Collison couldnt buy a shot most of the game, going 1-for-11 through three quarters, but canned a momentous three-pointer (the first trey of his NBA career) for a 102-96 lead at 2:11. He later dropped in a critical layup for another six-point lead with 38 seconds to go.
You are going to have nights like that in the NBA, but the biggest thing is you want to finish strong, Collison said. You want to make sure number one that you get the win, no matter how you play. Two, you want to make sure you stay confident at all times. I didnt want my confidence to leave me. I wanted to keep shooting the ball. They were giving me some good looks and I knocked (the shot) down at the right time.
The ultra-quick Collison has noticed opposing teams have played off him, daring him to shoot jumpers instead of penetrating. He knows hes going to have to make those open shots during his rookie season. Theyre playing off of me and teams have been going under the screen (on picks), he said. You just have to have confidence to make it. I cant shy away from shooting.
Devin Browns play was reminiscent of what he showed during his 2006-07 stint with the Hornets in Oklahoma City, finishing with 19 points, six rebounds and five assists.
Coach Bower has been saying he wants everyone to play with confidence, Brown explained of the teams approach. Were going to spread the floor. Were going to get the ball to Peja and to D West. If we can continue to do that, its going to show how deep our bench really is. It was just a great job by everybody tonight.
Me being one of the veteran guys and having won a couple (NBA) titles in San Antonio, I know when its time to step it up. We were 3-8, and we know the West is very tough, and we had to pick it up. Its not like if you lose one game by 25 points, that you start the next game down by 25. You have a chance any night to correct it. As long as we stay with our defense, well be fine.
Brown came up with several pinpoint passes for easy baskets, handling the point guard role in spurts very well. Im one of those guys who loves pick-and-rolls and making plays off them, he said. I noticed a couple times that the bigs were wide open.
More great signs from Marcus Thornton, whose innate scoring ability was on display again. The LSU product scored 19 points in 20 minutes, despite leaving the game for several minutes in the second half due to a foot injury. Thornton said he believed the injury occurred when he inadvertently stepped on the foot of a fan who was sitting in the first row.
I tweaked it, but Im still going to get out there Saturday and try to give it a go, he said. It was a freak accident. It happens. Im just going to rehab it and get ready.
Emeka Okafor was a big reason New Orleans dominated the rebounding category right from the opening tip. Okafor finished with seven offensive rebounds; the Hornets led second-chance points 38-13 and held a 56-38 overall rebound edge.
It was a major struggle individually for David West, who went 2-for-11. The two-time All-Star had just six points and four rebounds in 29 minutes, often dealing with foul trouble. West was appreciative of the way the other Hornets contributed, though.
"We had high concentration," West said. "I think what we've got now is putting everyone in position where their strengths are being magnified."
Peja Stojakovic helped ignite the New Orleans Arena crowd of 14,520 by burying seven three-pointers. His 25-point, 13-rebound outing was his first double-double since Jan. 21 of last season.
HORNETS POSTGAME QUOTES
Head Coach Jeff Bower:
On the Hornets finishing quarters with scoring runs: Before the game started, we actually talked about what we would do when we got a lead just to have confidence and to talk about handling that situation. Every time we did get a lead and it got tightened up, I thought we dealt with it, handled it, got a big rebound or was able to make a shot at the right time. We were able to keep the game under control.
On Darren Collison: His decision making, his ability to create shots for our other players, both interior and in the perimeter (was excellent). These situations are somewhat new to him at this level, but, obviously, he is used to making decisions in end of game scenarios in his college days. This is just a little bit bigger stage.
On rebounding tonight: It was a terrific effort tonight from our bigs. Emeka (Okafor) went after the ball all night. Our guards went after long rebounds. We felt that we had to get more shot attempts in order for us to be better offensively. The number of field goal attempts (was important), regardless of how many went in. Just to have that many attempts gives you a chance.
Hornets Guard Darren Collison:
On the game tonight: Anytime you get late into a game in that situation, you have to grow [as a team]. David West and Devin Brown helped me by talking to me throughout the game, and that takes a load off of me. At this point, we just had to focus and get the win..
Hornets Forward David West:
On the game tonight: Defensively, we had a plan to make them uncomfortable. We executed the plan. We talked about it yesterday and spent the day at practice working on some of the things they like to do. We had a high level of concentration. We wanted to get out early and push the tempo. Those things are doing it for us.