First things first – The referees absolutely DID miss a goaltending call against Grant Hill with under five seconds remaining in regulation. Hill was attemtping to block Marcus Thornton’s layup attempt which would have tied the game and most likely sent it into overtime. That being said, the Hornets absolutely DID NOT deserve to win this game in Phoenix. After Okafor left with injury, a completely different team came out of the locker room in the second half that did not even seem interested in competing down low. Even with newly acquired center Marcin Gortat, the Suns are still one of the weakest interior teams in the NBA, and the Hornets let them totally control the paint. As a result, Phoenix led by about 10 for most of the second half, and New Orleans only had a chance to force overtime thanks to a near-epic meltdown. Though that meltdown would have come to fruition if not for the aforementioned missed goaltending call, as a Hornets fan I cannot blame this game on the referees. Here are a few notes on the disappointing game.
- Gortat scored zero points until 1:10 remaining in the first half; he finished with a career high 25. Let me break that down for you – Gortat scored more points in the second half (and final 1:10 of the first half) against the Hornets than he has ever scored in any entire GAME throughout his whole career. I know the Hornets are obviously a weaker team without Emeka, but to allow a second half output like that to a career backup (granted, a very solid career backup) is just embarrassing and unacceptable. If Demps ever needed the motivation to make a move for a big man sooner rather than later, he just got it.
- Is Belinelli still alive? He has been absolutely terrible ever since coming back from his brief 3-game layoff with the ankle injury. It would be bad enough if the only part of his game that’s been hurting the Hornets was his shooting; he’s 11-33 in his past 5 games, including 4-16 from beyond the arc. Unfortunately, he just looks slow as well; he’s getting beaten to loose balls and on defense, his matchups are blowing past him. Monty seems to be realizing this as well, limiting Beli to about 18 minutes per game in his past 8 contests. Thornton has deservedly seen the biggest increase in playing time, but Willie Green has recently seen a bump as well. I’m beginning to wonder if the Hornets are better off starting Green for his superior defense while continuing to give Thornton the majority of the SG minutes, and use Belinelli similarly to the way they utilized Peja for the past couple seasons in 3-point situations. Belinelli has been starting in an attempt to stretch the floor, but with his recent poor shooting, he hasn’t been able to do so.
- Another game for Thornton where, despite sub-par shooting (3-11 should have been 4-11 if goaltending had been correctly called), he still looked very good thanks to 10 rebounds and 4 assists. For some reason, MT5 has only averaged 20 minutes in each of the past two games (both losses); I’m not sure if this is because Monty is making a concerted effort to save his energy for the second half, but he needs to be in the game more. He has proven over the past month that he is undoubtedly the Hornets’ best option in the backcourt with CP3, and needs to get the corresponding increase in playing time. I agree with keeping him out of the starting lineup and using his energy off the bench, but he should be playing almost as many minutes as the rest of New Orleans’ starters.
- As he always seems to do, CP3 outplayed Steve Nash on both ends. Paul scored 26 points on 7-14 shooting thanks to going a perfect 10-10 from the line, and dished out 12 assists with no turnovers as well. Nash, on the other hand, only scored 10 points on 3-9 shooting and committed 3 turnovers. He did manage to dish out 15 dimes, but 6 of the 15 went to Gortat; with the way the Hornets’ big men guarded him, the Suns could have borrowed DJ Mbenga and played him at PG instead of Nash and still gotten those assists.
Enough about this one. Next game is Tuesday, February 1st back home against a Washington Wizards team which is 0-22 on the season. As long as Okafor is back, there really shouldn’t be any reason to worry about this one, but if he has to miss the game, I may start to panic. This next game is immensely important for the Hornets since the following two are on the road against Oklahoma City and then back home against the Lakers. Hopefully, the Hornets get their act together and get the W against Washington with or without Emeka.