Hornets visit CP3's home state tonight

Friday, December 28, 2007
By: Jim Eichenhofer, Hornets.com

Chris Paul lists Charlotte as his favorite NBA road city, primarily due to its proximity to Paul's hometown of Winston-Salem, N.C. In each of his first two NBA seasons, Paul has purchased tickets for scores of friends and family members. Even by Paul's standards, however, his ticket allotment for Friday's 6 p.m. game against the Bobcats is a significant one.

Hornets basketball communications manager Dennis Rogers reports that the 6-foot point guard will have another huge cheering section in the Queen City tonight. Paul purchased 500 tickets for the game. Two other Hornets with Carolina ties, David West and Bobby Jackson, bought 50 tickets apiece.

Other notes from the team's visit to Charlotte:

  • The team is staying at the same hotel as many Connecticut and Wake Forest college football fans who are in town for Saturday's Meineke Bowl. The Huskies and Demon Deacons are playing at the Carolina Panthers' home venue, Bank of America Stadium.
  • Paul is speaking to a group of Wake Forest alums prior to tonight's Hornets-Bobcats game. After the game, he will chat with a large group of people from Winston-Salem.
  • Hilton Armstrong, who sprained his ankle when Rudy Gay fell on him during Wednesday's game, will play tonight.
  • New Orleans is trying to up its winning streak to four games. If the Hornets are successful, it will be the third different time they've compiled a win streak of four games or more.
  • Tonight's game will air on NBA TV. You can also follow the action live on the Hornets Radio Network. After the game, tune in to the "Hornets OT" postgame show, hosted by Joe Block. There is a call-in portion of the program that fans can participate in by dialing (504) 593-4910.

Five Observations: Hornets 99, Bobcats 85

The Hornets ran their winning streak to four games Friday with another convincing victory, this time racing to a 19-point halftime lead and holding a comfortable edge for much of the second half. New Orleans improved to 19-10 overall and 11-5 on the road.

Playing in front of 500 fans from his hometown of Winston-Salem, N.C., Chris Paul tallied 17 points and dished out 11 assists in 34 minutes. Tyson Chandler (17 points, 17 rebounds) and David West (20 points, 10 rebounds) also supplied double-doubles.

With a comfortable lead, Byron Scott used only reserves during the early portion of the fourth quarter, allowing the starters to rest up a bit for Saturday’s 7 p.m. home game vs. LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Five observations from the 14-point triumph at Charlotte Bobcats Arena:

1) Yes, you read the standings correctly. The Hornets are the West’s third-best team.
With a little over a third of the regular season in the books, it probably goes without saying that there is a long way to go in 2007-08. Still, if you had told just about anyone around the NBA that through 29 games, the Hornets would be No. 3 in the loaded Western Conference, they would’ve been very surprised. Back in the summer, only about half of the prognosticators picked the Hornets as a playoff team. I asked Chris Palmer of ESPN: The Magazine when he visited about the lack of attention that New Orleans received during the offseason. He agreed with the notion that the Hornets have emerged as the most overlooked quality team in the NBA so far.

“Nobody talked about the Hornets at all,” Palmer said of the preseason predictions. (But) Peja Stojakovic is one of the most overlooked players in the league. Tyson Chandler is one of the most overlooked rebounders, even though the guy has been unstoppable on the boards. Even this season, when the Hornets have the third-best record in the West, nobody (around the NBA) is talking about them. It’s all Celtics, Magic and Spurs. If the Hornets were in the East, they’d probably have the second-best record.”

Playing well through 29 games obviously doesn’t win you anything. At the same time, the season has gone about as well as anyone could have imagined to this point. The Hornets also have the best road record in the West. Only Boston and Orlando have better away marks in the entire 30-team league.

2) Chris Paul “channeling his inner Byron.”
That was how NBA TV studio analyst Roy S. Johnson described Paul’s leadership and direction of the Hornets’ attack, saying that CP3 has become an extension of his head coach, Byron Scott. It’s revealing to follow the development of Paul and fellow third-year point guard Raymond Felton, who was also a lottery pick in the 2005 draft. While both players are physically talented and lightning-quick ACC products, at the same stage of his NBA career, Paul has a deeper understanding of the game and how to make his teammates better.

Paul poured in 40 points at Memphis two days ago, but he seems to be able to sense when the Hornets don’t need him to produce big offensive numbers. With multiple Hornets teammates contributing offensively in the first half Friday, Paul only took seven shots, but racked up eight assists. The result was that five other players tallied six points or more prior to intermission and New Orleans built a 19-point halftime edge.

3) The “Mariano Rivera stat” and the double-double guys.
As Hornets radio play-by-play broadcaster Sean Kelley put it, the team has been as successful as the All-Star New York Yankees closer in preserving late-game leads. New Orleans improved to 15-1 Friday when leading after three quarters. Of course, it’s a whole lot easier to prevent a fourth-quarter comeback by the opposition when you’re up big entering the final 12 minutes. The Hornets led by 17 at Charlotte going into the fourth and have been in front by an average of 18.5 points at the end of three stanzas during the current four-game winning streak.

The Hornets are undefeated at 8-0 when Tyson Chandler and Chris Paul both produce a double-double in the same game.

4) The Hornets are an excellent free-throw shooting team, but they aren’t getting to the line enough.
As Hornets radio analyst Gerry Vaillancourt pointed out Friday, it’s a very good sign that New Orleans is ranked third in the NBA in free-throw percentage (just under 79 percent) – but they are only 28th in attempts. Compared to other NBA teams, the Hornets are more reliant than most on perimeter shots, which means they don’t make as many trips to the foul line, relatively speaking. It actually shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise, because New Orleans has multiple players who have historically scored the bulk of their points from the perimeter, such as Peja Stojakovic, Rasual Butler and Jannero Pargo. To a lesser extent, Morris Peterson (eighth season) and Bobby Jackson (11th season) have also become more reliant on outside shooting as they have gotten deeper into their NBA careers.

5) The buzz on… Julian Wright.
The rookie from Kansas could easily have gotten frustrated by his lack of playing time early in the regular season, but he maintained a positive attitude and has taken advantage of his chance to produce recently. His aggressiveness on offense has increased, which has resulted in fewer mistakes and better play.

“Slowly but surely, he’s starting to emerge,” Vaillancourt says. “His confidence is growing. He wanted to blend in (initially) on offense, but he’s beginning to attack the basket.” As Gerry V also pointed out, Wright’s personality has made him well-liked in the locker room. The veterans want to see him do well. Wright’s mature handling of his limited minutes early in the season bodes well for the pro career of the 2007 draft’s No. 13 overall pick.