Five Observations: Hornets 118, Grizzlies 116 (OT)

Friday, December 7, 2007
By: Jim Eichenhofer,

For the second straight time this season, New Orleans and Memphis played an overtime thriller. For the second straight time, the Hornets prevailed by two points. Chris Paul poured in a career-high 43 points and provided the game-deciding basket with 1.8 seconds remaining in overtime. In the clubs’ previous matchup in Tennessee, David West scored the game-winning hoop of a 120-118 triumph.

New Orleans (13-7) captured its 11th consecutive OT victory, a streak that dates back to the early portion of the 2005-06 season.

Here are five observations from the dramatic two-point win at the New Orleans Arena:

1) Chris Paul sets career-highs in points (43) and three-pointers (5).

Amid all of the deserved accolades that have been heaped on Paul during his tremendous start to the 2007-08 season, the one doubt other teams still have about CP3 is his perimeter shooting ability. He appears closer than ever to putting any end to the skepticism about his three-point accuracy, after draining 5-of-7 treys Friday and going 15-for-27 from the floor overall. He surpassed his previous career-high in scoring by eight.

“Going into a lot of games, teams say (about me) let him shoot, because he really can’t shoot,” Paul said in the locker room. “Tonight it burned them. I try to tell people I can shoot a little bit, (especially) if I’m open.”Paul believes that his three-point stats in past seasons are a bit deceiving, because many of his trey attempts come late in the shot clock. “If you look at the stats and think I can’t shoot, then that’s on you,” said Paul, who seems to be tiring a bit of having to make a case for his ability to connect from downtown. He is now up to a career-best 41.7 percent from the three-point arc this season.

“When you’re missing two of your guns, you put a little more pressure on yourself to get it done,” Scott credited of his point guard. “I thought he played terrific.”

2) Julian Wright’s best showing so far in 2007-08. The rookie from Kansas made his biggest contribution of the season, playing a career-high 22 minutes and scoring six points on 3-for-6 shooting. He tallied all of his points during an early second-quarter spurt. He said after the game that his offensive play helped boost his outlook over the rest of the night.

“With Peja and Mo sitting out, the opportunity was there for someone to come in and (contribute),” Wright said. “For me, it’s not really about (offensive) statistics. I know what’s needed from me is defense. I was trying to provide energy, and as a rookie and a reserve, I should have the most energy and enthusiasm of anyone on the court. I’m trying to keep things simple on offense, (but) I’m not even going to lie – it helps (from a confidence standpoint) when you score a few buckets like I did.”

Scott: “I thought Julian played well, especially in the first half. In the second half, I thought he went back to being a rookie.” Scott said Wright was over-thinking his jump shot later in the game and “guiding” his attempts instead of shooting with a natural, fluid motion.

“I told him to stop wishing and hoping (on jumpers),” the coach said. “His aggressiveness and athleticism was good. He’s still growing and learning, and it’s going to take him some time, but I thought he did good things on both ends of the floor.”

3) Morris Peterson and Peja Stojakovic leave mid-game due to injuries.
Peterson departed just five minutes into the game after re-aggravating the strained back muscle that forced his early departure from the Detroit contest Wednesday. Stojakovic left the game in the second quarter with a strained groin muscle.

Scott said he is uncertain about the status of the wing players for Sunday’s game vs. Seattle, but that he expects Stojakovic to be out. “We’re going to have a better indication at practice tomorrow,” Scott said. “We’ll talk to (trainer) Terry (Kofler) about who’s going to be available and we’ll adjust from there.” As a result of the injuries, Wright and Jannero Pargo were thrust into more prominent roles and both responded well.

4) Scott “relieved” by bench’s improved performance.
Times-Picayune beat writer Teddy Kider asked Scott during his postgame chat if Scott was “relieved” that he received a stellar performance from his reserves, who have struggled overall in recent weeks. New Orleans outscored the Memphis bench by a 26-11 margin. “That’s a good word – relieved,” Scott responded, chuckling. “That’s a good word to use. I was very happy that the guys came in and played well. I thought Hilton (Armstrong) played well after not playing for a few games. Bobby (Jackson) showed some signs of getting back to his old self. Now with Peja and Mo maybe being out for an extended period of time, now’s the time (for the bench) to start playing (better).”

5) Memphis is better than you may think.
Although the Grizzlies dropped to just 6-13 this season, they are a hard-luck 0-6 in games decided by three points or less, including a pair of two-point OT defeats to the Hornets. Furthermore, when Pau Gasol and Rudy Gay are at the top of their games – as they were Friday – they will be a handful for just about any opponent. Despite losing both head-to-head meetings, they’ve definitely impressed their Southwest Division counterparts.

“They’re better than what their record shows,” Pargo credited after the game. “They’ve got an All-Star in Pau Gasol, and Rudy Gay is playing extremely well this year and has elevated his game to a new level. For a guy who is 6-foot-10, can shoot the ball and is athletic, he has all the tools to be a great player in this league. He’ll be an All-Star one day. “Their point guard, Kyle Lowry, is a good player, and they’ve got a lot of shooters coming off the bench. I think they may be a year or two from being a really good team.”