Five Observations: Hornets 92, Hawks 86

Saturday, December 1, 2007
By: Jim Eichenhofer,

New Orleans quickly erased a two-point halftime deficit Friday and led for a vast majority of the second half, en route to its eighth road victory of 2007-08 in 10 tries. David West paced the Hornets with a monster 22-point, 17-rebound performance, including erupting for 12 third-quarter points. New Orleans took control behind West’s big third period to the tune of a 25-18 edge.

New Orleans (11-6) returns to the floor at 7 p.m. Saturday vs. Dallas, before a three-day break prior to Wednesday’s home contest against Detroit.

Here are five observations from the six-point win at Philips Arena:

1) Jannero Pargo provides his most key minutes so far in 2007-08.
The 6-foot-1 guard hasn’t gotten the same opportunity to be a difference-maker as he did in 2006-07, when injuries to Chris Paul and Bobby Jackson vaulted him into a starting role seven times and he averaged 20.9 minutes. Entering Friday’s game he was logging 14.9 minutes per night, but made a case to earn more playing time vs. the Hawks. Over 18 minutes, the Arkansas product tallied 11 fourth-quarter points among his 13 for the game, for the biggest impact he’s made on a Hornets victory to date in 2007-08. With Paul on the bench for the first seven minutes of the fourth quarter, New Orleans actually extended a five-point edge through three periods to as much as 13. Pargo was the biggest individual reason why.

2) Paul sits for much of the fourth quarter, but carries Hornets offense during sluggish first half.
The Hawks’ TV broadcast tandem of Bob Rathbun and former Hornets guard Steve Smith commented several times that Paul looked antsy to get back into the game in the fourth quarter. However, the unit on the floor was playing so well without him that Byron Scott decided to stick with the group until the 5:04 mark, when Paul was re-inserted. Although Paul wound up going scoreless in the fourth quarter, he piled up 20 points for the game. Paul’s 16 first-half points were crucial because little else seemed to be clicking offensively, and Morris Peterson and Peja Stojakovic were not hitting shots early. Stojakovic finished with four points on 2-for-12 shooting.

3) Dental issues sideline Tyson Chandler for second half.
Atlanta’s TV crew reported that the Hornets’ 7-foot-1 center had two crowns on his teeth damaged after he was inadvertently struck in the face by a Hawks player. Since one of the crowns was damaged, but did not completely fall off a tooth, Chandler had to have the crown removed, to avoid the potential danger of swallowing it. Chandler had six points and six rebounds in 18 minutes of first-half action. Rathbun and Smith also speculated that Chandler does not look 100 percent due to the recent hyperextended knee injury he sustained in the Nov. 19 Orlando game. Excluding Friday’s game, he has averaged 11.0 points and 6.3 rebounds since returning from the injury. On the season, his averages are 10.8 points and 10.3 rebounds.

4) Hilton Armstrong fills in admirably for Chandler.
With Chandler out for the rest of the game, Armstrong got the nod to join the starters at the outset of the third quarter, after he did not get into the contest at all in the first half. Armstrong – who had impressed the Hawks in preseason with a 25-point, 14-rebound outing – responded nicely, collecting four points and seven rebounds over 18 minutes of PT. The Connecticut product had a resounding follow-up dunk two minutes into the second half and later dropped in a nifty left-handed layup on a post-up over Atlanta’s Al Horford. He also made an athletic play to steal a Hawks pass and break up a transition opportunity, and later drew a charge on a barreling Zaza Pachulia.

5) Julian Wright makes an appearance in tightly-contested game.
Other than mop-up time during the fourth quarter of routs, it had been a while since we’d seen the rookie from Kansas on the floor. The last time he appeared in a game that was decided by fewer than 18 points was the 93-90 defeat at Portland on Nov. 7, when he was in for three minutes. On Friday, Wright was inserted at the 10:43 mark of the second quarter and remained on the floor for the next 3:19. The 6-foot-8 forward had a nice up-and-under move on a post-up but couldn’t get the shot to drop, and also displayed his quick-thinking passing ability with a feed to Chandler, but the Hawks knocked the ball out of bounds to foil the play. With Ryan Bowen sidelined, one of the things Wright can provide as a 20-year-old rookie is energy and fresh legs for a squad that relies on a lot of veterans. Wright also has the ability to slash to the basket and create offense, which is a nice option to have. Several of the Hornets’ other reserves, such as Pargo, Rasual Butler and Bobby Jackson to an extent, produce many of their baskets on jump shots.

Five Observations: Hornets 112, Mavericks 108 (OT)

Now that’s how you end an eight-year, 21-game losing streak against one of your biggest division rivals.

New Orleans (12-6) forced overtime on an improbable Peja Stojakovic three-pointer with 2.9 seconds remaining in regulation, then outscored Dallas 10-6 in extra time to pick up a tremendous early-season win. Chris Paul’s spectacular outing consisted of 33 points, 12 assists and nine rebounds, while five other Hornets reached double figures in scoring.

Here are five observations from an action-packed victory at the New Orleans Arena:

1) The best game of Chris Paul’s pro career?
CP3 seemed determined to put a halt to the head-to-head skein vs. Dallas. Although he finished one rebound shy of logging his fourth career triple-double, the fact that his 33-12-9 outing came in a victory over the Mavericks should vault this outing to the top of the list among many All-Star-caliber performances during his three-year NBA career. “Unbelievable,” Byron Scott described of his floor general. “He played his heart out. From the start, he was very focused on this game.” Paul’s fantastic night included a 19-point second half and perfect 10-for-10 shooting from the foul line.

2) Hornets relieved the streak and “Alonzo Mourning” references are over.
Scott notched his first career victory against Dallas and New Orleans beat the Mavs for the first time since 1999. He seemed pleased that the questions about the one-sidedness of the Hornets-Mavs series – which come up before every meeting between the Southwest Division teams – will finally end. “I told our players that we have no chance against Dallas if we don’t play as hard or harder than them,” Scott said. “I thought we played as hard as them. We consider Dallas, Phoenix and San Antonio to be the three elite teams, especially in the Western Conference, so this was a good win for us.” Jannero Pargo said Paul specifically mentioned earlier Saturday to his teammates that Dallas was the only NBA team Paul had not beaten during his career. “This was a win that Chris wanted really badly,” Pargo said. “As a team, we all knew that and wanted to get this win for him.” “We finally beat them, so that’s the greatest feeling for me,” Paul concurred. “For a while there, everyone in the organization almost thought that Dallas was unbeatable. We showed that we can do it. “Most of all, enough is enough. You get tired of going home after the game and watching SportsCenter, and SportsCenter puts up (a graphic) that the last time we beat them, Alonzo Mourning was on the Hornets. Enough is enough. “I’m still probably about 1-12 against (Dallas),” Paul added, smiling, “but we got one (tonight).”

3) Peja comes through in the clutch.
Stojakovic’s memorable, OT-forcing three-pointer at the end of regulation capped a 22-point night that included 4-for-6 accuracy from beyond the arc. The 6-foot-10 small forward made a handful of momentum-turning shots throughout the game that seemed to invigorate the raucous New Orleans Arena crowd. On the game-tying three, he took a David West inbounds pass and fired up a high-degree-of-difficulty bomb over Dallas 7-footer DeSagana Diop, without time to really set his feet or square up to the hoop. “Peja was the first option on that play,” Scott described. “I used Chris (Paul) as a decoy. Peja hits big shots.” In his abbreviated 2006-07 debut season with the Hornets, when Peja appeared in only 13 games, he still managed to connect on several timely buckets, particularly on the road.

4) Jannero Pargo, AKA “Mariano Rivera.”
After the game I asked Pargo if we should start labeling him “Mr. Fourth Quarter” following his final-stanza eruption at Atlanta on Friday and his large contributions vs. Dallas. (Pargo went scoreless through three quarters Saturday, but tallied six points in the fourth quarter and had five more in OT). “They can call me ‘Mariano Rivera,’ ” a grinning Pargo joked, alluding to the New York Yankees right-handed closer. The 6-foot-1 combo guard said he realizes that his playing time is largely dependent on how he performs early in the game. “I’ve had this opportunity (to potentially contribute late in games) all year,” Pargo said. “But I understand that if I play well, I get to play longer. Lately in the fourth quarter, I’ve been playing well. To be out there when the game’s on the line, it shows that (Scott) has confidence in me and that can go a long way.”

5) Bench takes step back in Scott’s plans.
Despite the Hornets playing a back-to-back and going into the overtime, the Hornets’ reserves were a smaller part of the equation than in perhaps any game this season. Scott leaned heavily on his starters, in part because the second unit was ineffective. Rasual Butler and Melvin Ely played 10 and four minutes, respectively, while Hilton Armstrong received a DNP-coach’s decision for the first time in 2007-08. “Our bench guys are so up and down right now,” Scott assessed. “If I have to cut the rotation down, I will do that, because the bottom line is we want to win basketball games. It’s putting a lot of pressure on me to play our starters (more minutes).” Chandler wound up logging 50 minutes, while the other starters (excluding Morris Peterson) put in 49, 48 and 46. The good news? The Hornets have the next three days off from game action to rest up for Detroit on Wednesday.