Its certainly not as exciting as moving into the No. 8 slot, but the winner of Sundays 6 p.m. game at the New Orleans Arena is assured of taking over ninth place in the Western Conference standings. The winner will also grab a 2-1 head-to-head advantage in the season series, an edge that is certain to remain that way for nearly two months. The Rockets (28-26) and Hornets (29-26) arent scheduled to face each other again until April 14, the last day of the regular season.
Add it all up and you have the makings of a relatively important Southwest Division matchup. Both teams are chasing the eighth-place Portland Trail Blazers (32-25), who will host Utah later Sunday. Beginning Tuesday, Portland embarks on a fairly difficult five-game road trip that should cause the Rockets and Hornets to do some scoreboard watching.
First though, the Hornets will try to post their second home victory over the Rockets in a seven-week span. Houston will look a bit different than during the Jan. 2 encounter, having acquired Kevin Martin from Sacramento this week. On the plus side for the Hornets, Carl Landry who has turned in several big games against New Orleans was included in the Martin deal and is no longer a Rocket.
Hornets coach Jeff Bower said he was pleased overall with the teams performance in a 107-101 win over Indiana, but a second-half rally by the Pacers raised some concerns.
I thought our ability to play at an increased tempo and pace (decreased). I thought we lessened that in the third quarter, Bower said of Fridays game vs. Indiana. The speed of our cuts wasnt quite as sharp in the second half as it was in the first half. Thats one of the biggest areas I will talk about (in preparing to play the Rockets). But overall I was pleased with their effort in getting ready for Houston.
Houston played its first game post-trade tonight, also against the Pacers, but surprisingly lost on its home floor by a 125-115 count. Martin scored 14 points on just 3-for-16 shooting from the field. Former New Orleans first-round pick Hilton Armstrong joined Houston in the same transaction. He was activated tonight but did not get into the game.
Chris Paul joked recently in an interview with NBA TV that Darren Collison needs to stop producing so many stellar statistical games, because Paul doesnt want to lose his starting job. Although Paul acted like he would prefer that Collison not play so well, after tonights victory, the three-time All-Star tracked down the game ball, and presented it to the rookie from UCLA.
Collison, starting in the injured Pauls place for the 17th time this season, earned the game ball by posting his first career triple-double, consisting of 18 points, 13 rebounds and 12 assists.
Collison, who like Paul is listed at an even 6 feet, said he cant recall ever getting a triple-double in high school or college, mostly because its difficult for him to crack double figures in boards.
Im small, so most of (my rebounds) were long rebounds, said a smiling Collison.
When a wire reporter pointed out that Collison nearly had a quadruple-double due to his eight turnovers, a grinning Collison said, well, were going to keep that part out of (the game recap).
New Orleans (29-26) went up by 19 at halftime, but Indiana (18-36) made a big second-half surge to make it a game. The Hornets finally wrapped up the victory in the final two minutes, ensuring that Collison would be able to celebrate his statistical achievement.
It feels good, but at the same time, I didnt really notice I was close to a triple-double, Collison said. But it was more about the win, and whatever was necessary to get the win. If we didnt get the win, it wouldnt have meant anything.