Hornets.com postgame: Hornets 85, Suns 84

Monday, December 26, 2011
By: Jim Eichenhofer, Hornets.com

Hornets (1-0), Suns (0-1)

It was over when… Eric Gordon came up large in the final five seconds of his Hornets debut. Gordon drained a jumper from the top of the key to put New Orleans up by a point. On the ensuing possession he denied the ball from getting to Steve Nash, leading to a Markieff Morris errant pass that sailed out of bounds with 0.5 seconds remaining. Gordon then got wide open under the basket and received a Trevor Ariza inbounds pass, before dribbling out the final half second.

Hornets MVP: Gordon’s long-range shooting exploits are well-documented around the NBA, but he didn’t rely on his jumper much until the game was on the line. Instead, the fourth-year pro took advantage of a deceptively quick, off-the-dribble game to attack the Suns’ defense and get to the rim. Of Gordon’s nine baskets from the field, only two came off deep jump shots (including the game-winner). He was 0-for-6 from three-point range, meaning he connected on 9 of his 12 attempts tries from inside the arc. Overall, you couldn’t have drawn up a much better way for him to start his tenure with a new team.

Hornets Sixth Man of the Game: It’s difficult to give Greivis Vasquez enough credit for what he accomplished Monday. Despite joining the team 48 hours earlier, Vasquez looked like he’d been with the Hornets for an extended period of time. Amid the absence of Jarrett Jack (one-game suspension), it’s no stretch to think the Hornets could not have won this game without Vasquez’s 27 minutes. Yes, he had five turnovers, but under the circumstances, he delivered a greatly-needed presence for a team almost completely devoid of substantial NBA point-guard experience.

The buzz on… a team-wide quality performance leading to victory. If you had to guess the scoring averages of some of the Hornets’ primary offensive players this season, Monday’s final box score may not have been a bad attempt. Gordon, who Dell Demps predicted would be New Orleans’ “leading scorer” this season, finished with 20 points, followed by 14 from Carl Landry, who is probably the No. 2 option in the starting lineup. Trevor Ariza added 13 points, while Chris Kaman and Marco Belinelli each cracked double digits at 10 apiece. It’s probably not likely Vasquez will average double figures over the course of the campaign, but he too chipped in 10 points on a night when his minutes increased due to Jack’s DNP. In other words, this was exactly what NOLA needs in 2011-12 to prove that it can compete in the rugged Western Conference and Southwest Division.

Post-Melo Nuggets provide blueprint for Hornets

After lengthy speculation, they traded their superstar player, receiving multiple players in the deal. From the outside, virtually every NBA analyst expected them to make a precipitous drop to the bottom of the standings. Sound familiar? It’s the story of the 2010-11 Denver Nuggets, who dealt Carmelo Anthony to New York in exchange for Wilson Chandler, Raymond Felton, Danilo Gallinari and Timofey Mozgov. Despite what was deemed to be a devastating blow of losing their best player, the Nuggets earned a No. 5 seed in the Western Conference playoffs, where they were ousted in a closer-than-it-appeared 4-1 series defeat to Oklahoma City.

When the Hornets take the floor Monday in their 2011-12 regular season opener at Phoenix (8 p.m. Central time, Cox Sports Television), they’ll be trying to follow the Nuggets’ lead in remaining competitive after the departure of a franchise player. Hornets players readily acknowledge that outside expectations have changed considerably, but that could provide additional motivation on the court.

“Most of the guys on this team have been underdogs all their lives,” said Carl Landry, who begins his first full season as a Hornet in the starting five. “It’s nothing new to any of us. It’s fuel to the fire. It makes us want to go out and work that much harder to go out and win ballgames, and prove everyone wrong.”

Asked what his own expectations for the 2011-12 Hornets are, Jarrett Jack said he’s been thinking lately about Chicago guard Derrick Rose’s quote in the fall of 2010, when Rose said “Why can’t I be the MVP?” Rose went on to win the award. “I don’t like to put limits or ceilings on anything,” said Jack, who will sit out Monday’s game due to a league-mandated one-game suspension. “Why can’t we win the Western Conference?”

Jack then referenced the ’10-11 Nuggets, who handled the Anthony trade and subsequent major roster restructuring as well as anyone could’ve possibly imagined. Over the final two months of last season, Denver was one of the deepest teams in the NBA, with a 10-man rotation that included two quality options at all five positions.

“Having a number of guys who can contribute or be effective is harder to guard,” Jack said of the Nuggets’ balanced post-trade offensive attack. “If you look at the situation with Carmelo last year – not to pinpoint it – they lose a great player in him, but they get back four or five guys. It seemed like they didn’t miss a beat. Some people said they were better (as a team after the trade). It’s harder coming into a game to defend against seven potential options, rather than keying in on two (players) or maybe even one guy. I think that’s what we have here. Hopefully on opening night, we’ll be able to show and prove.”