Five Observations: Hornets 91, SuperSonics 88

Sunday, December 9, 2007
By: Jim Eichenhofer, Hornets.com

Playing without injured starters Peja Stojakovic and Morris Peterson for the first time all season, New Orleans held off upset-minded Seattle in a game that went down to the final seconds. Chris Paul turned in another outstanding performance, with 29 points and 10 assists, two days after he poured in a career-best 43 points vs. Memphis.

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

1) Chris Paul carries offense again with Peja and Mo Pete sidelined.
Paul has periodically shown the ability to take over games offensively throughout his three-year NBA career, but now that the club’s third- and fifth-leading scorers are injured, it’s paramount that he becomes more aggressive in looking for his own shot.

“He understands the situation, as far as having certain guys out,” Scott said of his point guard’s approach. “He’s been able to lead us to two victories and has been playing extremely well. Just like I told Tyson Chandler and David West, they have to pick their games up and take it to another level. I think Chris has taken it to heart.”

Paul tallied 15 of New Orleans’ 39 second-half points Sunday and buried two huge fourth-quarter baskets, including a 28-footer against the shot clock that gave the Hornets an 80-78 lead with 3:54 remaining.

2) Stojakovic, Peterson probably “game-time decisions” on Wednesday.
After an off day Monday, Scott said he will get an update on the health of both players at Tuesday’s practice. It is unclear whether either guy will be on the floor Wednesday at Denver, but Scott said he expects both could be game-time decisions.

“Hopefully we’ll get one of those guys back Wednesday,” Scott said.

The upcoming stretch is one of the most difficult weeks of the entire 2007-08 schedule for New Orleans, with road games at Denver and Dallas, followed by Saturday’s home game against Phoenix. That’s three of the West’s best teams in a span of four days.

3) The “replacements” perform well in first starts of 2007-08.
In his initial professional starting assignment, Julian Wright played more minutes than any Hornet (39), scoring six points, grabbing six rebounds and handing out three assists. Meanwhile, Rasual Butler had seven points and six boards in 35 minutes. He had a rough shooting night at 3-for-11 from the field. Scott seemed pleased with the efforts of both new starters.

“I know he’s going to make some mistakes,” Scott said of Wright. “He’s young, he’s inexperienced and he’s going to make rookie mistakes. I just wanted to let him play, but every time he makes a mistake, you have to point it out to him, and hopefully he can absorb that for the next game. I thought he played well.” Scott said Wright’s minutes increased partly based on Seattle’s size, which forced him to use Jannero Pargo less due to his 6-foot-1 frame.

“Rasual did a pretty decent job before fouling out,” Scott said.

4) Winning games against inexperienced opponents will be critical to this season.
Every NBA team, no matter how good, will lose some games during the course of an 82-game regular season that it probably shouldn’t. The season is too long for it not to happen occasionally. However, the Hornets dropped more than their share of games last season against struggling clubs. One thing to follow this season in order to gauge how much the Hornets have improved from a year ago is their record against some of the less regarded teams in the Western Conference. Realistically, there are six clubs that nearly every analyst excluded from their playoff predictions – Seattle, Minnesota, Portland, Memphis, Sacramento and the Los Angeles Clippers. After Sunday’s win, New Orleans is 7-2 against those teams, with the only losses coming against the Timberwolves and at the Trail Blazers. That’s not a bad success rate so far.

5) Uncharacteristic struggles at the foul line by Hornets.
New Orleans has been one of the best free-throw shooting teams in the league so far, ranking fourth in the NBA at 80.0 percent entering Sunday. So it came as a surprise when the foul line was one of the club’s biggest problem areas vs. the SuperSonics. The Hornets went just 15-for-27 on Sunday and missed three key charity tosses late when they were trying to ice the victory.

With the Hornets leading 89-88 with 6 seconds to go, Pargo missed both of his free throws, leaving the door open for Seattle. Fortunately for the Hornets, the SuperSonics turned the ball over immediately, a huge break. “That was really disappointing tonight,” Scott said of the woes at the line. “We’ve been shooting about 79 or 80 percent from the foul line this season, but tonight we were at 55 percent. When you get those opportunities, you’ve got to take advantage of them.”