The Hornets beat the Blazers

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Published: January 26, 2010

Ah, them Hornets. Completely and utterly incapable of playing a boring game of basketball these days. Tonight’s one-point victory in Portland was their ninth win by five points or less… this month! To boot, they’ve only lost four games in January, at most by 7 points, and two of those losses were in OT.

Ain’t no garbage time around here. 98-97 the final score tonight. Here’s your boxscore.

The Rookies

As amazing as Chris Paul was tonight, I have to mention the rookies first. With the trade of Devin Brown earlier today, Marcus Thornton got his first NBA start and came through like a champ. He started red hot, dropping 9 points before the Blazers could even figure out who he was. He’d finish with 19 points on 8-of-12 shooting in 39 minutes of action, and was on the floor with fellow-rook Darren Collison as the Hornets somehow halted Portland’s momentum and clawed their way back from a late 9-point deficit.

Collison played just 18 minutes total, but he came through in the clutch with two huge jumpers. He showed great poise and patience in the fourth quarter, never panicking when he had the ball in his hands late in the shot clock, just making heady plays repeatedly.

As for defense, Thornton struggled quite a bit trying to stick with the likes of Steve Blake and Rudy Fernandez, especially off the ball. He needs to keep working on fighting around those picks, and preferably no with an elbow (though I find it hard to believe Marcus had malicious intent in that clash with Rudy).

But speaking of defense, it must be noted that it was Collison and Thornton who teamed up to do a nice job contesting that last shot by Jerryd Bayless. Gotta love those rookies getting it done in crunch time.

Chris Paul

I’ll let the numbers speak for themselves: 24 points, 9-17 FGs, 3-5 from deep, 12 assists, 7 boards, 5 steals, 2 turnovers. CP was on a mission tonight, single-handedly carrying the Hornets in that third quarter when Portland were threatening to rip the game open. And I hope everyone can appreciate just how difficult that game-winning shot was. Sure, he was wide open for it, but he’d literally just picked himself up off the floor after racing up-court and getting knocked down trying to pass the ball to David West. Not sure where he found the bounce.

David West and Emeka Okafor

A few things about the Hornets starting bigs tonight:

  • Portland did a fantastic job guarding West, chasing him off the block with double teams and making it extremely difficult for him to catch the ball down low in the first place with a defender regularly fronting and enough help on the back to deter the lob. The result was a 4-of-13 shooting night for West, but he was able to sink 10-of-11 free throws to finish with 18 points.
  • I didn’t notice West being limited at all by that sprained left ankle that caused him to miss Saturday’s game in Denver. I’m surprised that he came back so fast showing no ill-effects.
  • There were times tonight when West and Okafor made some seamless defensive rotations and covered for each other brilliantly. And other times… not so much. More often than not, it looked like a lack of communication that caused the breakdowns. On several occasions West would be rushing back to his man after leaving to show help, only to be surprised to find Emeka having rotated to cover for him. Then West would have to turn and find Emeka’s man and try get to him before bad things happened.
  • Both West and Okafor did a pretty good job when in single-coverage on LaMarcus Aldridge. That dude just unleashed some serious moves and fades that couldn’t be stopped. Not his best game overall though, as he finished with 16 points on 8-of-19 shooting.

Two Browns down

The Hornets made plenty of noise before the game tonight, finally getting under that magical luxury tax threshold by trading away Devin Brown and Bobby Brown. Devin was shipped to Chicago, with the Hornets getting big body Aaron Gray in return. Meanwhile, Bobby’s as good as gone to the Clippers in exchange for a future second round pick.

That second deal was the big saver for the Hornets, allowing them to shed Bobby’s $736,420 contract. You’ll recall that the Hornets were about $500,000 deep in luxury tax threshold, so that deal alone was all they needed to avoid the dollar-for-dollar penalty and share in the rebate paid to all non-tax teams this summer.

Given that, and the fact that the Hornets only saved about $100,000 by doing the Devin Brown trade, it would appear that Jeff Bower was desperate for some front court depth. I’m not sure Aaron Gray is the answer to that problem though. He’s a solid rebounder but unremarkable at everything else, and he’s known to be one of the slower pivots in the league. The only definite advantage I can see from this move is that Marcus Thornton now has a starting job, which should accelerate his development and make Hornets Hype very happy indeed.

UPDATE: Game highlights from NBA.com…

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