With .500 in reach, Hornets host improving Knicks

Friday, December 11, 2009
By: Jim Eichenhofer, Hornets.com

For a team with greater aspirations than a break-even mark, a .500 record might not sound like reason for excitement, but at least short-term, New Orleans should be encouraged that a victory tonight vs. New York (7 p.m., New Orleans Arena) would improve the Hornets to 11-11.

New Orleans has not been at .500 since Oct. 30, when a narrow home victory over Sacramento resulted in a 1-1 record. Since then, the Hornets have changed head coaches, watched All-Everything point guard Chris Paul be sidelined for three weeks with an injury, and played one of the toughest schedules in the NBA.

The Hornets will try to register their seventh consecutive home victory against a New York team that also is playing much better since some early-season woes. The Knicks (7-15) began the campaign at 1-9, but are 6-6 since then. Meanwhile, New Orleans is 7-5 with Jeff Bower as head coach, including winning seven of its last 10 games.

“We’ve stressed things on a day-to-day basis, as far as improving, concentrating,” Bower said of his team’s primary focus. “Our whole emphasis is that the wins will take care of themselves if we follow the foundation pieces. We realize the impact (of a turnaround that has brought the Hornets close to .500), but we haven’t dwelled on that at this point.”

Diogu will miss entire 2009-10 season

Minutes ago, the Hornets announced a piece of disappointing news: free-agent acquisition Ike Diogu will have season-ending surgery on his injured left knee. The 6-foot-9 power forward had been trying to rehabilitate the injury in order to get back on the court, but the surgery he will undergo on Tuesday means he is out for the rest of the season.

Diogu was injured prior to training camp and did not appear in a preseason or regular season game after signing with New Orleans in July.

“Obviously I am very disappointed to be having this surgery instead of being able to be out there on the court with my teammates,” Diogu said in a team press release. “I am committed to being back 100 percent and am going to do whatever it takes to be back playing basketball.”

Diogu has been hailed as an underrated NBA player by several statistical analysts, most notably John Hollinger, due to his ability to produce in limited minutes. The Hornets believed he could make an impact for a frontcourt reserve group that has struggled in recent seasons, but it won’t happen in 2009-10.

Hornets.com postgame: Knicks 113, Hornets 96

Entering tonight, the Hornets had won all three games since Chris Paul returned from his ankle injury. They’d gone 7-3 over the last 10 games. They’d won six straight games at the New Orleans Arena.

All of the momentum the Hornets had been building came to an end, in a difficult to foresee loss to the Knicks.

Against a team not known for its defensive stinginess, New Orleans (10-12) only mustered 34 second-half points. New York (8-15) buried a barrage of deep three-pointers in the fourth quarter, winning a game they had trailed by as many as 16 points.

The Hornets struggled on both ends in the second half, sputtering offensively by making just 9 of 40 field-goal attempts. The Knicks connected on 23 of 38 shots in the second half, including going a sparking 9-for-14 from the three-point stripe.

"It’s obvious we couldn’t buy a shot tonight, but our defense was unbelievable," said Paul, whose 4-for-14 shooting game was emblematic of the night for the Hornets. "We’ve got to change that. We had a few games where our defense was good, but it was horrible tonight. Our gameplan going in was to try to contain David Lee as much as possible, but then their guards got going. Chris Duhon was lights-out from the three-point line.

"Once they got to shooting like that, it was pick your poison. We let them drive on screens and shoot it, and then we were in trouble... it shows that we’ve got to do better. At home, we’ve been a really good team and these are the kind of games you’ve got to win. We’ve just got to find a way to get (the momentum) back."

For whatever reason the Knicks have proven to be a major obstacle for the Hornets, going 4-0 head-to-head over the past two seasons. New York has gone 36-65 in its other games during the same timeframe.