Five Observations: Trail Blazers 88, Hornets 76

Monday, December 17, 2007
By: Jim Eichenhofer, Hornets.com

Tied early in the fourth quarter Monday, Portland reeled off 10 consecutive points to build a 76-66 lead with 4:10 remaining. New Orleans couldn’t pull much closer the rest of the way, as the Trail Blazers posted their eighth straight victory – the second-longest winning streak in the NBA this season. New Orleans dropped to 15-10 and 8-5 on the road.

Five observations from the 12-point defeat at the Rose Garden:

1) Offense struggles mightily again on the road.
New Orleans lost for just the fifth time in an away game this season in 13 tries. If there is a common thread in most of the games the Hornets have lost on the road so far, it’s been offensive ineptitude. In defeats at Utah, at Dallas and at Portland, they’ve scored 71, 80 and 76 points, respectively. It’s extremely rare in the NBA that a road team can tally 80 points or fewer and still prevail.

On Monday, New Orleans couldn’t solve Portland’s zone defense, particularly in the second half, and failed to connect on open looks. The Hornets shot 41 percent overall and were a dreadful 4-for-26 (15 percent) from three-point range. They didn’t score more than 21 points in any quarter and were limited to just 16 fourth-period points.

“I think (the poor offensive play) was just missing shots,” Byron Scott explained. “Any time you go 4-for-26 (on three-pointers), and I think we missed about 14 straight, you’re not going to win a lot of games. We did enough defensively to win. It really showed tonight how much we missed Peja (Stojakovic). He would have gotten some of those open looks.”

2) Tyson Chandler’s boardwork becoming reminiscent of 2006-07.
By the lofty standards he set during his breakout debut season with the Hornets, the 7-foot-1 center’s rebounding numbers early this season have dipped somewhat. In recent weeks, however, Chandler has again been virtually unstoppable on the glass. He pulled down 19 rebounds Monday and is now averaging 14.8 per game in December. His offensive play has also been on the uptick; with 14 points at Portland, he’s been in double digits in seven of eight December games.

3) Bench outplayed by Trail Blazers counterparts.
Hornets TV analyst Gil McGregor listed bench play as one of his three keys to Monday’s game, but the team’s reserves were outscored 27-12 by the Blazers. New Orleans’ subs were held scoreless after intermission and combined to go 4-for-16 from the field. Partly as a result of the ineffectiveness of the bench, Byron Scott gave heavy minutes to Chandler (44), Chris Paul (41), David West (40) and Rasual Butler (36).

4) The buzz on… Rasual Butler.
During his two-plus seasons with the Hornets, Butler has often seen his role increase based on circumstances unrelated to his play. In 2005-06, the shooting guard position was in flux as a result of ineffectiveness and inconsistency from players like J.R. Smith and Kirk Snyder. Last season, Butler was forced into an unexpected starting role due to rampant injuries throughout the roster.

Now the 6-foot-7 La Salle product has moved into the first unit following the injury to Peja Stojakovic (strained groin muscle). Butler has done a credible job in Stojakovic’s stead. In four recent starts, he is averaging 11.8 points while shooting 42 percent from the three-point arc. He has been shooting with confidence when he spots up on the perimeter and is enjoying his best stretch of the season after a rough November.

5) The buzz on… Bobby Jackson.
At 34 years old and now in his 11th NBA season, the 6-foot-1 combo guard is the most experienced member of the Hornets. That makes his role even more critical on a second string that is currently relying on a 20-year-old rookie (Julian Wright) and a second-year big man (Hilton Armstrong) who has only appeared in 79 career NBA games. Jackson is currently trying to fight through a shooting slump that has seen his three-point percentage dip below 30 percent. His overall field-goal percentage is now at 35 percent.

You could easily make a case that if the Hornets’ bench is going to reverse some of its early-season issues – leading Scott to lean heavily on his starters – Jackson could be more critical than anyone.