Hornets seek third straight win vs. Memphis

Wednesday, December 26, 2007
By: Jim Eichenhofer, Hornets.com

New Orleans (17-10) will try to run its winning streak to three games in Memphis tonight. Game time is 7 p.m. at FedEx Forum. The Hornets have already picked up a pair of dramatic overtime victories over the Grizzlies this season, winning 120-118 in Tennessee in November and 118-116 in Louisiana on Dec. 7.

New Orleans currently holds the fifth-best record in the Western Conference, a half game behind the Los Angeles Lakers (18-10).

Tonight's game is available live on the Hornets Radio Network (pregame "Hornets Warmup" show begins at 6:30). You can watch the game on NBA League Pass via the Grizzlies' TV feed. After the game, fans can participate in the postgame call-in radio show by dialing (504) 593-4910.

Five Observations: Hornets 116, Grizzlies 98

This time, the Hornets wouldn’t need overtime to overcome the Grizzlies. New Orleans (18-10) turned in a second straight stellar performance on the road, pulling away from Memphis in the second half en route to a one-sided victory. The Hornets improved to 3-0 over the Grizzlies this season, but this was the first meeting that didn’t require an extra five minutes to settle the outcome.

Chris Paul paced the visitors with 40 points, the second-best single-game scoring night of his three-year NBA career. His career-high is 43, also against Memphis this season. Five observations from the 18-point victory at FedEx Forum:

1) Meet Chris Paul, pure shooter.
Overall, this was CP3’s best outside shooting performance as a pro. While most 40-point games include plenty of trips to the foul line and drives to the basket for layups and close-range scores, that wasn’t the case Wednesday for Paul. He only attempted one free throw.

The 6-foot point guard feasted on 20-footers from near the top of the key and also went 5-for-8 on three-pointers. Paul said after the game that he figured he’d be open on the perimeter more frequently than usual because the Grizzlies were electing to go under the picks that Hornets big men were setting for Paul. The Wake Forest product foiled Memphis’ strategy by repeatedly swishing shots from long distance.

Paul was 17-for-25 from the field. The most baskets in a game by any NBA player during the 2007-08 season so far has been 18.

2) Putting the clamps down on the Grizzlies.
The Hornets had allowed 118 and 116 points in the previous matchups against the Grizzlies. Let’s face it - you’re not going to win comfortably against anyone with those types of defensive performances. As a result, Memphis pushed New Orleans to overtime in each of the earlier games. This time, the Hornets were much more sound defensively and did not give up 30 points or more in any quarter. New Orleans was particularly effective on Memphis standout big man Pau Gasol, who tallied just eight points on 3-for-6 shooting.

3) Bench does a lot with not a lot of minutes.
New Orleans’ reserves were outscored 41-23, but that’s not much of a rarity this season. As the Grizzlies’ TV broadcasters pointed out, the Hornets’ second unit has now lost the scoring battle in eight of the past nine games.

Byron Scott hasn’t been using his subs as much as most opponents, but it’s still important that the reserves are productive in however much time they are allotted. Wednesday was one of the bench’s most efficient games of late, with Bobby Jackson, Jannero Pargo and Rasual Butler combining for 21 points in 53 combined minutes. The second unit did a nice job in the early portion of the second quarter of turning a two-point deficit into a lead, with Paul resting on the bench.

4) Another road win, another win over a sub-.500 opponent.
Everyone gets excited by wins over elite teams like Dallas and Phoenix, and justifiably so, but the reality is that the Hornets’ regular season success will be determined much more by how they fare against weaker teams. If you look back at the club’s 10 defeats and examine the current NBA standings, it’s worth noting that only one of those 10 losses (Minnesota) was against a team that has a losing record. Through the first third of the campaign, the Hornets appear to be significantly improved in terms of not slipping up against foes that are playing poorly. Two of New Orleans’ losses were against Portland, which is currently on an 11-game winning streak. A few other defeats: vs. San Antonio, vs. Orlando, vs. Detroit, at Denver, at Dallas. Those are all elite or close-to-elite squads.

New Orleans also improved to 10-5 on the road, a fantastic start in that category.

5) The buzz on… Peja Stojakovic.
Scott said after the Minnesota game - Stojakovic’s comeback from his groin injury - that he would be limiting the small forward’s playing time until he showed he was 100 percent. Stojakovic apparently looked comfortable enough physically that Scott elected to give him 36 minutes at Memphis. Peja responded with 21 points, the most he’s tallied in a game since the Dallas win on Dec. 1.

It was once again evident how much Stojakovic helps the offense by spreading the floor and forcing defenses to respect his outside shot. He fired up 11 three-pointers Wednesday and made five. With he and Morris Peterson on the wings, it pulls defenses out to the arc, which often creates driving lanes for Paul. It also means Tyson Chandler (12 points, 13 rebounds) and David West (20 points, 9 rebounds) do not have to fight off as many opposing players when they vie for offensive rebounds.