Hornets.com postgame: Hornets 93, Hawks 86

Sunday, December 26, 2010
By: Jim Eichenhofer, Hornets.com

Hornets (18-12), Hawks (19-13)

It was over when… Chris Paul made the second of two free throws with 19 seconds remaining, giving New Orleans a three-possession advantage at 93-86. The Hornets won their second straight at home following last week’s frustrating two-game road trip in Detroit and Indiana. New Orleans is 13-3 at home, but 5-9 on the road entering Monday’s back-to-back at Minnesota.

Hornets MVP: Fans and media have been clamoring for what seems like the entire season for Chris Paul to be more assertive on the offensive end (i.e. look for his own shot). They got their wish Sunday, with Paul racking up 18 second-half points, spearheading a come-from-behind victory. Atlanta led 55-46 at intermission, but the Hornets’ three-time All-Star took over in the third quarter, nearly matching the Hawks’ point production as a team (16-13). In similar situations recently, Paul has often deferred to teammates, but has said he’s just “taking what the defense gives.”

Hornets Sixth Man of the Game: Jarrett Jack continues to be relied on more by the coaching staff, playing big minutes again in the fourth quarter. Jack finished with 10 points and three assists in 22 total minutes, but played all 12 minutes of the final period. Early in his tenure with New Orleans, he shot poorly and went through one of the rougher stretches of his six-year career.

“I just knew it would turn around,” Jack said. “My comfort level is getting better. It was very difficult (at first). I’ve never been in a situation where I was traded midseason, having to grasp hold and hitting the learning curve behind everyone else. It was difficult, but I expected that. Maybe not to last as long as it did, but hopefully those days are behind me and I can just keep moving forward.”

The buzz on… the Hornets’ status in the Western Conference. During the offseason, the majority of NBA analysts projected New Orleans to miss the 2011 playoffs, partly due to the formidable competition in the West. Although by no means are the Hornets a “lock” to make the postseason at this stage, they’re in sixth place through 30 games and not unreasonably far from third. One factor behind New Orleans’ better-than-expected standing has been a drop-off in performance by 2010 playoff participants Portland and Phoenix, who’ve dealt with widespread injuries and major roster turnover, respectively. Houston, which also was expected to be in the thick of the playoff hunt, started extremely poorly but has been quietly successful of late. One area where the Hornets have greatly improved is their results against the weaker Eastern Conference. Last season, New Orleans went a troubling 13-17 against the East, but is 8-5 so far after beating the Hawks.

Blog question of the night: Following Monday’s 24-hour stop for a game in Minnesota, New Orleans’ next home game is Wednesday against the Los Angeles Lakers, almost always a sellout in the Big Easy. With LeBron James departing Cleveland for Miami this summer, the Heat, Lakers and Celtics are clearly the most obvious road draws in the NBA now. Other than that “Big Three,” which NBA team do you think should be the biggest attraction in the league?