Hornets.com postgame: Hornets 88, Rockets 79 (1/9/13)

by Jim Eichenhofer

Hornets.com postgame: Hornets 88, Rockets 79

By: Jim Eichenhofer, Hornets.com, @Jim_Eichenhofer

Hornets (10-25), Rockets (21-15)

It was over when… Jason Smith made the first of two free throws, giving New Orleans a nine-point lead with under a minute remaining. Smith later added a tip-in to provide additional insurance for the Hornets, who secured their first three-game winning streak of the season. Over a five-day span, New Orleans has defeated all three Texas teams. Wednesday’s victory cooled off the red-hot Rockets, who had won five in a row. New Orleans erased a 10-point deficit through three quarters by surging to a 29-10 edge in the fourth period. 

Hornets MVP: Two nights after a DNP in Monday’s victory over the Spurs, Roger Mason didn’t seem a likely candidate to make a major impact Wednesday, but during a fourth-quarter offensive eruption, that’s exactly what he did. After playing just 4:11 in the first three quarters, the veteran NBA shooting guard poured in 15 points in the final 12 minutes, including three three-pointers. In his 16-minute outing, Mason still managed to tie for team scoring honors with 17 total points. Dating back to Eric Gordon’s return on Dec. 29, Mason has been blistering from three-point range, making 10 of his last 12 attempts. “Coach (Monty Williams) called my name, and I wanted to bring energy and knock down shots,” Mason described. “You have to always be ready in this business, because you never know. My teammates really found me. Without them, none of these shots would have gone in.” 

Hornets Sixth Man of the Game: Much like Mason, Jason Smith has been a much more accurate shooter and player overall during this recent stretch that roughly coincides with the return to the court of Eric Gordon. Smith finished with 17 points and 10 rebounds (six offensive boards) against Houston in just 27 minutes. After going 6-for-13 from the field, Smith is now 22-for-37 over the past four games. He is averaging 12.3 points in that 3-1 span. “I think it’s really just a matter of working on thing in practice,” Smith said of his recent uptick in shooting. “Obviously Eric coming back has helped, because it gives us another threat. It opens up the floor for shooters like us, especially his aggressive nature going to the rim.”

The buzz on… a three-game winning streak. In a way, Wednesday’s victory was the most impressive of the three against the Texas triangle, because it occurred despite subpar offensive games from the Hornets’ top two scorers, Ryan Anderson (0-for-7, 0 points) and Eric Gordon (2-for-12, 5 points). “Those are our big-time offensive players,” Smith said. “But we played amazing defense tonight. To hold that (Houston) team to low points in the fourth quarter, that’s hard to do. I know (Anderson and Gordon) came out and played aggressive defense. Sometimes your offense isn’t going for you. We rallied around our teammates, went out and executed.” After starting the season 6-23, the Hornets have gone 4-2, including 4-1 in Gordon’s games (he sat out last Wednesday's back-to-back at Houston). It’s been an drastic turnaround after the frustration of the first two months, but Hornets players realize they must keep playing well and not see slippage. “It’s three in a row, but at the same time we have to continue to get better,” Smith said. “We can’t get complacent. There are a lot of games left and a lot of season left. That’s what Coach (Williams) is going to preach to us. Having a full team back is great. Different guys are contributing. When you put in different pieces, it’s fun to go out there and play.” Mason: “You’ve got to be happy with how we’re playing right now, but in the grand scheme of things, you see our record. We know we have a lot of work to do. We want to build off this. We’re finally healthy as a team. We want to evaluate what this team can do. So far, we’re doing some big things.”