Five Observations: Hornets 101, Suns 98

Saturday, December 15, 2007
By: Jim Eichenhofer,

Two weeks after posting an attention-grabbing victory over Dallas, New Orleans was at it again Saturday, defeating an elite Western Conference club in the Big Easy. The Hornets led 99-98 with time winding down in the fourth quarter, when Phoenix forward Shawn Marion came up well short on a running 10-footer from the middle of the lane. Chris Paul then drained two free throws with two-tenths of a second remaining, icing a tremendous victory.

The Hornets snapped a two-game losing streak and improved to 15-9. New Orleans hits the road again Monday for a 9 p.m. game at Portland.

Five observations from Saturday’s three-point nail-biter at the New Orleans Arena:

1) Contributions from many lead to impressive victory.
Six different Hornets reached double digits in scoring, including the entire starting five. Tyson Chandler and David West each recorded a double-double, with Chandler piling up 18 rebounds along with 14 points. Meanwhile, the other starters – Paul, Morris Peterson and Rasual Butler – combined for 53 points. In perhaps the biggest statistic of the game, the trio also totaled 11-for-18 shooting from the three-point arc. New Orleans beat Phoenix at its own game by canning 12 treys; the Suns had eight trifectas.

“Every night it’s different (players producing) and you don’t know who to stop,” Paul described of the Hornets’ balance.

“Any win’s a good win, but when you beat a quality team like Phoenix, that makes it a little bit more special,” Byron Scott said. “We look at San Antonio, Dallas and Phoenix as teams we measure ourselves against. This was another one of those measuring sticks to see how far we’ve come. We’ve come a long way from the last couple seasons, but we still have a ways to go.”

2) Battle in the middle goes to Tyson Chandler.
If you told the Hornets that Chandler (14 points) would score only two fewer points than counterpart Amare Stoudemire (16) in Saturday’s game, they would have gladly taken it. Add in the fact that Chandler grabbed 18 rebounds to Stoudemire’s eight, and New Orleans had to be overjoyed by a decided edge in the center matchup. Stoudemire was limited to only 11 field-goal attempts, which was critical to slowing down the Suns’ high-powered attack.

“Tyson played a great game,” Scott said. “I thought he played Amare about as well as anyone’s played him all season long. You just can’t say enough about his defense. And we keep saying that in the rebounding department, he’s one of the best in the business.”

3) Score one for youth in the meeting of the All-Star-level point guards.
Steve Nash, 33, is a two-time MVP and a perennial All-NBA pick. While Paul, 22, has not appeared in an All-Star Game yet, he seems well on his way to playing a “42nd home game” in New Orleans in February. Saturday’s performance was another notch in his belt, as he significantly outplayed his veteran opponent. CP3 finished with 21 points, 10 assists and two steals; Nash had 12, seven and zero in those categories. Nash was just 4-for-12 from the field.

4) Confidence means world of difference for Hilton Armstrong.
The second-year reserve big man turned in his best game of the campaign, scoring a season-high 11 points and grabbing three rebounds. He had seven critical points in the fourth quarter and showed more aggressiveness than we’ve seen from him in quite some time.

One of the most interesting quotes from the locker room after the game was this from Paul about Armstrong: “Hilton is one of those guys we have a lot of confidence in. I think at times we have more confidence in him than he has in himself. When he gets the ball in that post, he’s very tough to defend. When he (passes) the ball back out to us on the perimeter, we yell at him. (We say) ‘We don’t want the ball back. We want YOU to do something with it.’

“Tonight he showed emotion and was very active.”

Scott: “With Melvin (Ely) out, we talked about how he’s going to get additional minutes. He came out focused tonight and was very aggressive on both ends of the floor.”

“I have to get back in an aggressive mindset,” Armstrong said. “I’ve been a little passive, and I think that’s what has set me back. My confidence goes up and down a lot. I’ve been hearing that my whole career, ever since high school.”

5) Recapping the week.
We knew going into this week that the Hornets were up against perhaps their toughest three-game stretch of opponents all season, with road games at Denver and Dallas followed by home vs. Phoenix. New Orleans went 1-2, and had a golden opportunity to win in the Mile High City but failed to execute down the stretch on offense. Overall, no one is thrilled with one win in the three games, but the club is now 15-9 and appears to be putting some of its homecourt struggles behind them – a very good sign. The Hornets are now 7-5 in the New Orleans Arena despite having already played San Antonio, Orlando, Dallas, Detroit and Phoenix here. The home/road discrepancy has begun to even out, with New Orleans at 8-4 in away games.

Of the seven remaining games in December, six are against teams with losing records, although that may be slightly deceptive. Monday’s opponent, Portland, has been a very good home team so far, while Cleveland’s recent problems can be traced partly to the injury absence of LeBron James, who is now back on the floor.

Stojakovic, Ely Out Tonight

Forward Peja Stojakovic (strained left groin) and center Melvin Ely (fractured left eye socket) are out for tonight’s game vs. Phoenix. Stojakovic will be listed as questionable for Monday’s game at Portland while Ely remains out indefinitely.

Adam Haluska and Ryan Bowen remain sidelined, leaving Hornets coach Byron Scott with 10 available players against the Suns.

Five Observations: Maverkicks 89, Hornets 80

The Hornets dropped their second straight road game to a quality Western Conference foe, slipping to 8-4 on the road. New Orleans fell behind by as many as 16 points in the first half, but was able to pull within 61-57 through three quarters. Dallas (15-9) held a 28-23 edge in the final stanza to secure the victory and even the season series at 1-1 with its Southwest Division counterparts.

New Orleans (14-9) returned to Louisiana following the game and will be back on the court at 7 p.m. Saturday for a home contest against the Phoenix Suns.

Five observations from the nine-point defeat at American Airlines Center:

1) Offense sputters in Big D.
The Hornets were held to their third-lowest point total of the season (New Orleans tallied 71 at Utah and 76 vs. Detroit) after a woeful shooting night. At one stage of the second quarter, the Hornets were 9-for-35 from the field. They finished 30-of-84 for a 35.7 percent clip and also went just 5-of-19 from three-point range. A 13-point first quarter set the tone for a night when the Hornets simply could not get into a consistent rhythm at the offensive end.

2) Peja Stojakovic returns, but re-aggravates injury.
After missing the previous two games with a strained groin muscle, the small forward returned to the starting lineup in Dallas. He was having a decent game (10 points, 4-for-11 shooting, 25 minutes) when he re-aggravated the injury in the third quarter and did not return. After the game his status for upcoming games was uncertain.

3) Morris Peterson also returns.
The Hornets were relieved to see both their starting 2 and 3 back in action. Peterson’s presence on the court helps spread the floor and provides Chris Paul with another perimeter option he can go to in the offensive attack. Mo Pete’s first game after missing the tilts vs. Seattle and Denver was a quiet one offensively. He tallied five points on 1-for-6 shooting. However, he also had four steals, three rebounds and three assists. New Orleans was plus-7 with him on the court, which was better than any other Hornet on Friday.

4) Power forward showdown a wash.
The matchup at the 4 between David West and Dirk Nowitzki figured to factor greatly into the outcome of Friday’s divisional meeting, but neither player put much of an imprint on the proceedings. West finished 2-for-10 from the field for a season-low seven points, only the second time in 2007-08 he’s been held to single-digit scoring. Meanwhile, Nowitzki was a similar 2-for-8 with seven points. West did pull down 13 rebounds, while Dallas’ star notched nine boards and six assists.

5) A good sign for the Hornets in their series with the Mavericks.
One of the biggest differences I noticed between Friday’s game and some of the Hornets’ recent visits to Dallas came from the fact that when New Orleans got down by 16, it didn’t allow the Mavericks to completely take over the game. The Hornets have essentially lost several games to the Mavs in the first quarter over the previous two years, especially when the teams squared off in Texas. This time, despite a discouraging start for New Orleans, the club played through the struggles and even took a brief lead in the third quarter. Of course, no one is happy with a “moral victory,” but after watching the Hornets get humbled repeatedly by the Mavericks during the 21-game streak, this may be a sign of progress.