The Hornets beat the Pacers

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Published: January 17, 2010

Unlike in Detroit, where the teams made competing big runs all night long, the Hornets came out and did just a little more than the Pacers did each quarter, en route to a typically close win on the road.

The Hornets didn’t shoot particularly well, but for one of the only times this year, they took more free throws,  clearly won the battle of the boards, forced more errors than the other team, AND fouled less. 

The Bench Mob

An underrated part of what Jeff Bower has done for the Hornets this season is to construct a viable bench unit.  Last night in Detroit, it was second unit players that helped spark the run to get back into the game.  Tonight, the full second unit (Songaila-Posey-Wright-Thornton-Collison) was in for 5 minutes during the second quarter.   Posey and Wright completed the unit at the 10:40 mark, with the Hornets holding on to a 3 point lead.  When the first starter, Chris Paul, came back in at the 6:31 mark, the Hornets were holding on to a 2-point lead.  That’s a big difference from last year, when the Hornets averaged a six point deficit in the second quarter as the 2nd unit floundered.

Substitions and Matchups

As the season goes on, it becomes more and more apparent that the primary driver for Jeff Bower’s substitions is matchups.  An example:  In the fourth, the Pacers sub in a lineup of Hibbert-Dunleavy-Granger-Dahntay Jones-AJ Price.  At the same time, Bower sends Julian Wright out to counter and replace David West and match the extra swingman.  Four minutes later, the Pacers sub in Earl Watson for Dahntay Jones.  A few seconds later, Wright goes out for Collison, who covers the extra ball-handling guard.   Over two weeks however, there has been one change – and it was seen tonight as well.  With five minutes to go, Bower inserted Okafor into the lineup next to West, despite Indiana still only having a single real big man on the floor.

I see that as a promising change, and it gives us insight into what Bower thinks about his team.  Early in the season, it was clear that Bower was going to give minutes to West and Paul – and the rest of the team was going to be a matchup of what the other team was fielding against them.  If there was one opposing big – West would oppose that big, Paul would be the lead guard, and the rest of the team would be a potpourri of swingmen.  If there were two opposing bigs, West would be matched with Songaila or Okafor – based on the mobility of the second opposing big.    Now Okafor is always out there with West and Paul during crunch time. (non-free throw shooting crunch time, that is)  I read that as proof that Bower now considers Okafor as a strong enough player to play regardless of the matchups.   So the Hornets are now up to three players that other team must match up to.  Baby steps people.  Baby steps.

Rookie Report

Thornton continues to make his mark on the team, and for the second game in a row he played more minutes than any Hornets guard not named Chris Paul.  Tonight, he also matched Posey for minutes, as he challenges to become the Hornets true sixth man.  13 points on 8 shots, 5 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 steal, 1 turnover, and a trio of fouls in 22 minutes.  That’s solid stuff.

Darren Collison played tonight as well, doing his usual full-court pressure and amping up the pace of the game.  His shooting continues to slump, as he hit only 1 of 4 shots tonight, but he’s one of the rarest things in the league: a backup point guard who can run an offense.  That’s invaluable on a team like the Hornets which isn’t exactly filled with brilliant one-on-one scorers.

Other Observations

  • Hibbert had a career high of 27, though I’m not entirely surprised.  Hibbert has skills, and is a player I’ve actually coveted a little before this.  More importantly, Danny Granger only scored 12 points, well below his normal numbers.  He settled for a lot of jumpers, but the Hornets also were playing off of him, preferring to give him those jumpers.  Regardless, that marks the first time in some time that a talented wing scorer hasn’t absolutely lit up the Hornets.
  • I still can’t stand Dahntay Jones.
  • Last year, Rasual Butler came out at the start of the season and was hitting every shot he put up, wrecking all his career highs in shooting.  And then January hit, and he declined as the year went on.  Devin Brown has had three down games in a row now.  I hope he’s not going to do the same thing.   Marcus Thornton can’t hold down the shooting guard position entirely on his own.
  • For a while I thought tonight was Emeka Okafor’s Hilton Armstrong tribute.  Just a ton of passes bounced off his hands, negating easy layups.  Then I saw that he got 12 boards, so if it was an Armstrong tribute, it wasn’t a good one.

Next game is on Monday, in the middle of the afternoon, against the Spurs.  It’ll be interesting to see how the Hornets match up with one of the Elite Western teams.

[Updates]

Game Recap from Mr. Kennedy.

Highlights from NBA.com:

 

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