April 19, 2012

As New Orleans heads into its final home game of the 2011-12 season, the Hornets hope to continue their recent run of success in the Hive. After starting the campaign just 5-21 at home, the Hornets have won the same number of games in the Crescent City since April 4, going 5-1 with victories over Denver, Minnesota, Sacramento, Utah and Memphis. During that stretch, shooting guard Eric Gordon has often carried the New Orleans offense, including a big fourth quarter against the Jazz that resulted in a costly defeat for the playoff contenders.

The Hornets are 4-1 in the five home games Gordon has played this season, with the only loss coming against Philadelphia way back on Jan. 4. While the fourth-year shooting guard has provided New Orleans with much-needed scoring punch and a go-to guy, the clubs defense has remained its usual stingy self. Entering this week, the Hornets had held 13 of their last 14 opponents under 100 points.

Along with Gordons prowess, power forward Jason Smith has produced some of the finest games of his NBA career this month, while Carl Landry continues to deliver scoring off the bench. The Hornets have also received valuable performances from Greivis Vasquez who moved into the starting lineup due to point guard Jarrett Jacks season-ending injury center Chris Kaman and small forward Al-Farouq Aminu. Aminus playing time has increased during the latter portion of the season; hes responded with several solid all-around games.

In Thursdays FANtastic FANale, the Hornets again host a Western Conference foe that is fighting for playoff position. Houston entered Wednesday tied for eighth place in the standings with Phoenix. The Rockets only have three games left on their schedule following Thursdays division matchup, making this a potentially crucial night. Their final game, on April 26, is also against the Hornets.

Intriguing matchup: Power forward, Jason Smith vs. Luis Scola
Smith is the only Hornets player who remains in the starting lineup since the last time these squads faced each other, exactly three months ago on Jan. 19. In that 90-88 overtime loss for New Orleans, Smith provided an early sign of his vast improvement this season, outscoring Scola by a 17-13 margin.


In a scheduling oddity, the Rockets only appearance in New Orleans of the 2011-12 season takes place in the Hornets final home game. In a conventional, 82-game season, these Southwest Division rivals play each other four times, but due to the condensed 66-game schedule, theyve only met once so far. During their pursuit of a playoff berth which would yield the Rockets first postseason appearance since 2009 they held on for a 90-88 overtime victory against the Hornets on Jan. 19. They also host New Orleans next week, in an April 26 regular season finale. The Rockets were tied with Phoenix for eighth place in the Western Conference playoff race entering their Wednesday game at Dallas. After Thursday, they host Golden State and visit Miami on the weekend.

What's new
In an attempt to boost their final push toward trying to secure a playoff spot, Houston acquired center Marcus Camby in a trade with Portland. The 16-year veteran remains an outstanding rebounder, grabbing 18 boards last Friday vs. Phoenix. However, the 6-foot-11, 235-pounder recently sustained a back injury and missed Mondays crucial loss against Denver.

Rockets star
Houston doesnt have one clear player who is more significant than any other, with several major contributors splitting a relatively equal load. Shooting guard Kevin Martin is the Rockets leading scorer this season, but with him missing a stretch of games recently to injury, power forward Luis Scola is often the No. 1 offensive threat. The native of Argentina possesses a large complement of crafty moves around the basket, allowing him to score in the paint despite limited leaping ability. Martin racked up 32 points in the Jan. 19 game vs. New Orleans, so his absence is a noteworthy one for Houston, but backup shooting guard Courtney Lee has stepped into the starting lineup and done a commendable job.

Rocket on the rise
Point guard Kyle Lowry was having an outstanding 2011-12 when he sustained a frightening bacterial infection in early March, causing him to miss about a month of games. Although many NBA analysts expected Lowrys injury to possibly lead to Houston falling out of playoff contention, that hasnt been the case, largely due to the outstanding play of Goran Dragic. The fourth-year point guard has been called the point guard version of Manu Ginobili, a left-hander who fearlessly drives into the lane, but also can drain three-pointers when hes left open on the perimeter.

On the sideline
Kevin McHale, a Basketball Hall of Famer who was inducted in 1999, is in first season as head coach of the Rockets. His debut in Houston has gone much more smoothly than the two seasons he led the Minnesota Timberwolves, who went 39-55 under McHale. The legendary former Boston Celtics power forward was out of basketball when his tenure ended with Minnesota, but he moved into the broadcasting ranks by taking a gig with NBA TV.

Did you know?
The Rockets won the only championships in their franchise history in 1994 and 1995, defeating the Patrick Ewing-led Knicks and the Shaquille ONeal-led Magic in those NBA Finals. Since their mid-1990s glory days, Houstons track record has been very similar to that of New Orleans, with a string of mostly winning records in the regular season. The Rockets have finished over .500 every season since 2006-07, a streak that figures to continue, barring a very poor final week of 2011-12. The Hornets Trevor Ariza and Carl Landry were teammates with the Rockets. Although Emeka Okafor never played for the franchise, hes a native of Houston.

Players the Rockets want shooting free throws in a close game... If the Rockets need a three-pointer, three of their best options are...
Name Career FT percentage (through April 17)
A starter as a rookie for Orlandos 2009 NBA Finals team.
Free-throw attempts have dipped this season.
Rate of 86.5 this season is best since rookie year.
Name Career three-point percentage (through April 17)
Shot over 40 percent in first and third NBA seasons.
Has tripled number of career starts this season.
Catalyst off the bench is in third pro year.

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