Five Observations: Nuggets 105, Hornets 99

Wednesday, December 12, 2007
By: Jim Eichenhofer, Hornets.com

For the first time this season, New Orleans lost a game despite leading through three quarters. Denver erased a four-point deficit after three stanzas by outscoring its guests 28-18. Carmelo Anthony piled up 15 of the Nuggets’ points in the period and finished with a game-best 32 points.

Peja Stojakovic (strained groin muscle) and Morris Peterson (strained back muscle) missed a second straight game.

1) Rasual Butler delivers breakout performance.
The small forward from La Salle entered Wednesday with a season-high of 11 points. He cleared that total by the second quarter in Denver. Butler finished with 18 points, including 4-for-7 three-point shooting, easily his best game of the season.
“He made some shots early in the game and that kind of got him going a little bit,” Byron Scott said. “He did a pretty good job (defending) Carmelo (Anthony) as well. I thought on both ends of the court, Rasual did a good job.”
Anthony scored 32 points, but he took a boatload of shots to do so, piling up 28 field-goal attempts. Butler twice rejected Anthony on forays to the basket.

2) Chris Paul carries the load.
With 30 points Wednesday, Paul is averaging 29.8 points in five December games. He authored several highlight-reel moves early in Wednesday’s game and continues to display his improved jump shot. He buried a clutch trey to tie the game late in the fourth quarter. Paul also handed out 12 assists.

3) Impressive double-double for David West.
With two Hornets starters sidelined for a second straight game, it is imperative that the Xavier (Ohio) product joins Paul in trying to compensate offensively for those absences. West enjoyed one of his best perimeter-shooting games of the season, finishing 12-for-23 from the field and scoring 25 points. He also grabbed a game-high 16 rebounds.

4) Offense sputters in crunch time.
The Hornets had 81 points through three quarters, a slightly above-average tally. In the fourth quarter, however, they were limited to 18 points and seven baskets. New Orleans had two huge possessions in the final couple minutes that ended poorly. One resulted in a missed contested Paul three-pointer with Denver’s 6-foot-11 center, Marcus Camby, in his face; another offensive trip ended with West having to fire an off-balance three-pointer from the right side that was errant.

“In the second half we stopped attacking,” Scott said of the Hornets, who scored 40 points in the second half after rolling up 59 prior to intermission. “We settled for a bunch of jump shots, but (Denver) was attacking and going to the rim every time. They were the aggressor.”

5) Down to nine bodies.
The Hornets have 14 players on their overall roster, but Stojakovic, Peterson, Ryan Bowen and Adam Haluska were all in street clothes Wednesday due to injuries. After Melvin Ely was struck in the face by a Kenyon Martin elbow, Ely was forced to leave the game two minutes into the second quarter, leaving Scott with a total of nine players. Although neither player has received consistent minutes so far, this is another prime opportunity for Hilton Armstrong and Julian Wright to capitalize on a chance to play. They were both quiet at Denver, totaling two points, two rebounds and two assists over a combined 24 minutes. After Ely departed, Armstrong was the only Hornets big man on Scott’s bench.