The Hornets beat the Rockets

A solid all-around effort from New Orleans tonight gave them a big win over divisional foes Houston. The defense was impressive for much of the game and there was some nice balance to the offense with five guys scoring 12 points or more. They were able to weather multiple Rocket storms and hold their composure down the stretch, with David West and Darren Collison emerging as heroes for the second consecutive game.

102-94 the final score (box). The win gives the Hornets a 2-1 edge in the season series against Houston, meaning they can’t lose that tiebreaker.

David West

Ryan noted that West had a “stealth game” on Friday against the Pacers, scoring 25+ points before anyone really knew what was happening. Tonight was another one of those games. West had just 8 points and 2 rebounds in the first half, battling double teams and missing 5 of his 7 shots. But the second half he found the double teams mostly absent and was able to take advantage of guys like Luis Scola and David Andersen. He also played away from the post more, running high picks with Collison and getting some jumpers and drives out of that.

West was at his best down the stretch, coming up with a big offensive board and dunk inside of the 2-minute mark, then hustling down the floor to grab the rebound on Trevor Ariza’s missed three from the corner. He’d take the ball right to the rim after that and get to the free throw line. Just like that, the Hornets shaky 2-point lead had grown to 6 with 1:25 remaining.

West’s numbers in the second half: 19 points, 6-11 FGs, 7-9 FTs, 7 rebounds, 2 assists and a steal.

Darren Collison

Only two things I can fault Collison on tonight. One was not being able to stay in front of Aaron Brooks, which I’m not sure anyone in the NBA is capable of, especially when you have to deal with the gauntlet of picks set by his teammates. The second is those five turnovers DC had in the third quarter, many of them unforced. Beyond that, Collison was flawless against the Rockets, giving them regular headaches on the break and in the halfcourt. He finished with 26 points (10-17 FGs), 9 assists, 4 rebounds and 4 steals in 42 minutes.

I’m constantly amazed at Collison’s motor. Never seems to drop off, does it? As usual, he was picking his man up in the backcourt on defense tonight, catching Brooks by surprise and forcing a jump ball at one point. I also caught him doing an excellent job shadowing Brooks and keeping the ball out of his hands late in the first quarter, and it’s not unusual for Collison to grab the defensive board in the lane and beat all his teammates up the floor on the break.

The best thing about that energy though is that it seems to be contagious. He got the offense rolling tonight by pushing the ball early, and was also able to break the Hornets out of a third-quarter funk by getting out on the break and getting to the free throw line.

Emeka Okafor

Okafor set the defensive tone tonight, coming up monstrous in the first quarter with 8 rebounds and 5 blocks. It was a pity Emeka got in foul trouble, because the vast majority of the Rockets’ inside looks only came when he was on the bench. If he had been able to play closer to 40 minutes tonight, combined with Houston’s outside shooting woes, I’m pretty sure we would have had a blowout.

One thing that remains a disappointment with Okafor though is his offense. I thought he was capable of knocking down the occasional jumper and finishing softly around the rim but he reminds me more of Tyson Chandler than Tim Duncan on offense.

Other notes and observations:

  • The Rockets fared much better on offense when Aaron Brooks was in the game. As mentioned, he was able to lose Collison on some picks, get in the lane and cause trouble. Unfortunately, he wasn’t able to handle DC on the other end. His backup, Garrett Temple, actually seemed to do a much better job of that.
  • While the Hornets defensive effort appeared better than usual, it helped that the Rockets missed a bunch of open looks. Shane Battier and Trevor Ariza shot a combined 5-19 from the field. Ariza in particular could not have asked for better looks at the basket, finding himself wide open for jumpers all night. I wouldn’t be surprised if that hip was bothering him more than he let on.
  • Once again, much credit to Morris Peterson. It seems all he needed was some extended playing time to get his aggressiveness and confidence back. He scored 15 points on 5-of-9 shooting, most of that damage coming in the first half. Jeff Bower didn’t seem surprised by Peterson’s performance after the game, noting that Mo was the starting 2-guard on a 56-win team not so long ago. Bower’s words: “It wasn’t like he forgot how to play all of a sudden.”
  • The Mardi Gras Baby finally won a race.
  • The Rockets scored just 16 points in the first quarter. That’s the three straight games now in which the Hornets have held their opponent to less than 20 points in Q1.
  • Having Marcus Thornton handle point guard duties when Collison is resting doesn’t work too well. He holds the ball too long, no dribbling, waiting for something to develop. The rest of the guys are too used to a playmaker keeping his dribble alive and keeping the defense on its toes.
  • The Hornets did a great job of getting to the line again, shooting 22-of-27 on free throws compared to 7-of-14 for the Rockets. The Hornets were +17 on free throw attempts against the Pacers on Friday. Might be the first time all season they’ve had back-to-back games shooting more free throws than their opponent.
  • Speaking of free throws, the Rockets killed themselves by missing three of four in the final 90 seconds, two of them by Brooks. Could have been a much different finish had they knocked those down.
  • The Rockets have now lost five of their last six games. I’d expect them to come right and be back in the mix for that final playoff spot come April. Too much talent on that team and a good system in place. They’ll miss Carl Landry though.
  • If I was coaching against the Hornets, I’d get whoever Okafor’s guarding to run high pick and rolls with a shooter all day, leaving David West alone under the basket trying to stop whatever comes through. The Rockets ran one such play late in the first quarter and got an easy layup.

Next up for the Hornets, at Cleveland on Tuesday, followed by a trip to Milwaukee on Wednesday.

UPDATE: Game highlights…

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