Hornets 95, Wolves 81: Season Sweep Avoided

For the second time in three nights, New Orleans started well against an inferior opponent and established a strong first quarter lead it would not relinquish. 

In many ways, this game represented a return to the formula that led New Orleans to tremendous success early in the season- slow down the pace, play elite defense, and play average offense. While the offense tonight (95 points on 86 possessions) was much better than we've been accustomed to, wipe away Trevor Ariza's hot shooting night on multiple off balance threes, and it's really quite similar. Here's tonight's advanced box:

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The Timberwolves lead the NBA with an average 96.7 possessions per night. We kept the game to more than 10 possessions lower than that. Check out Canis Hoopus for the Wolves perspective, and take the jump for notes.

- It's pretty clear how important Emeka Okafor is to the success of this team. Not only was he dominant on the defensive end, he put in some nifty moves in the paint as well. It may take him a little bit to get his conditioning back, but in his 25 minutes tonight, he finished with 10 points, 7 boards, 3 blocks, and 2 steals. 

- MZURK noted in the game thread how Aaron Gray (very strong offensive and defensive rebounder) complements Carl Landry in the paint (strong offensive, poor defensive rebounder). I think it's a great point, and I'd extend it out to their roles on the floor too. Gray eats up space on the offensive end and should free space in the paint for Landry to work on his strong post game. 

- Speaking of rebounding, New Orleans did an exceptionally bad job on the defensive glass tonight. Minnesota collected 16 of its 48 misses. The biggest culprits? Jason Smith had 0 rebounds in 20 minutes, Okafor only had 5 in 25 minutes, and the normally strong Trevor Ariza picked up just 1 in 30 minutes.

- For the second straight game, I felt like the backcourt pairing of Jarrett Jack and Chris Paul really worked. Jack recorded 4 steals in his time on the floor and also made 5 of 9 shots for 13 points. He'll draw some flack for his zero assists, but in general, passing has not been his problem this year with New Orleans. He's been right around league average in assist rate for backup points. Rather, it's been his atrocious percentage from the field that has held him down, and he shot well tonight. 

- The Hornets' biggest strength was their ball control. The team committed just 7 turnovers on 86 possessions (versus 19 by Minnesota). Spearheading the effort was, obviously, Chris Paul who had just 1.

- Willie Green and Trevor Ariza shot from the outside way too much for my taste. Sure, there were a few more shots to go around with West out of the lineup, but those weren't wise shots to replace DX's with.

- An awesome post-game quote from Monty Williams to close us out: "When Quincy and Carl came in, they were like pit bulls, making stuff happen, slapping at balls and hitting people." If you remember, Monty mentioned after our last Wolves loss that the team needed to get more physical and start shoving people around "like Kevin Love does." Love got his tonight, but so did we.

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