Hornets.com postgame: Hornets 98, Nuggets 92

Friday, December 18, 2009
By: Jim Eichenhofer, Hornets.com

One player has built a career around his elite perimeter shooting. The other has joined the ranks of the league’s premier marksman only this season. As a duo, Peja Stojakovic and Chris Paul combined to shoot down the Nuggets, sparking the Hornets to a comeback from down 15 points. New Orleans (12-13) posted one of its best wins of the early season, beating the team that ousted the Hornets from the 2009 Western Conference playoffs.

Paul was only 2-for-6 from the field at halftime, but went 11-for-14 from there, finishing with 30 points, along with 19 assists and nine rebounds. Stojakovic, a former NBA three-point shootout champion, was 9-for-14 (4-for-8 on three-pointers) and tallied 24 points.

In the 48 hours between the Detroit win and tonight’s game, Hornets players downplayed the significance of facing the Nuggets for the first time since their one-sided 2009 postseason defeat. However, after the win the Hornets admitted that there was extra motivation to face a Denver team that humiliated New Orleans, particularly with a historic 58-point in Game 4 of the series.

“Before the game, our assistant coach Charlie Parker really motivated us,” Paul said. “He told us, this is not just another game. This is a team that embarrassed us last year. They basically swept us. Even though we won one game, they just ran over us in the playoffs. So it’s good to get this win under our belt.”

While the Hornets may have had more reasons to deem this an important game than the Nuggets and had some intangible edge due to that, New Orleans coach Jeff Bower pointed to several specific areas that led to the win.

“A lot was made of the emotion of this game beforehand, and obviously that was something everyone was well aware of, but I think execution was (the reason for victory),” Bower said. “That’s important, because we can build on execution. You can’t always duplicate an emotional win. So I’m proud of our guys and I think this is a big step forward for us.”

New Orleans (12-13) limited NBA leading scorer Carmelo Anthony to 5-for-16 shooting and 17 points. Overall, the Nuggets went 3-for-16 on three-pointers.

“I’ll take that (5-for-16 line) against anyone who’s going to be playing during All-Star Weekend,” said Devin Brown, who drew the assignment against Melo for large chunks of the game. “This was a great team (defensive) effort. There were a couple times where (Anthony) was able to get by me, but Emeka (Okafor) was there (to contest the shot).”

Hornets not focused on revenge vs. Nuggets

You’d be hard-pressed to find a Hornets player who is willing to publicly say that tonight’s matchup vs. the Nuggets is more important than any other game – even though New Orleans’ humbling playoff defeat vs. Denver from a mere seven months ago probably still stings. But considering that there are six new players on the Hornets’ roster this season, along with a reconfigured starting lineup and a new head coach, the focus appears to be much more on trying to get back to .500 than on achieving “revenge” against the Nuggets.

Still, the players realize that among Hornets fans, a visit from the Nuggets is much different in the Big Easy than, say, recent stops in town by the Kings, Knicks or Pistons.

“Everyone around here, everyone in the city, knows what happened in the playoffs last year,” Chris Paul said of facing the Nuggets. “This is our first crack at them.”

“Obviously, everybody is aware of last year,” Jeff Bower said. “But our whole focus is on what we have to do tonight, how we have to play and what we have to concentrate on to be successful. But obviously that’s in the back of everyone’s head. We have to keep our attention on tonight’s game, as opposed to the (58-point loss in Game 4 of the playoff series).”

While the Hornets (11-13) have made multiple changes since the 2009 postseason, the Nuggets (19-7) only carried out a few minor tweaks to their roster after they reached the Western Conference finals. However, the Denver Post is reporting that it’s likely Chauncey Billups (strained left groin) won’t play tonight, meaning rookie Ty Lawson could start. Billups’ partner in the Denver starting backcourt last season, Hornets nemesis Dahntay Jones, signed with Indiana as a free agent in July.

“These are two totally different teams,” said Paul, who was hounded by Jones throughout the Hornets’ five-game playoff defeat.