I'll preface this by saying that this was my first time covering any sort of sporting event as a member of the media. To put it mildly, there is a lot going on, so I apologize if this recap is a little scatter-brained. I'm going to attempt to write this recap live as it unfolds. Join me after the jump to see how this one went.
- Marcus Thornton gets a loud ovation when he is introduced as the last King starter, but it is definitely dwarfed by the ovation given to Chris Paul in his first appearance since that scary collision in Cleveland. That is how it should be.
- There is a "Team Thornton" banner hanging over my unused seat right now. I wonder who is responsible for that...
- Chris Paul looks fine out there so far. He starts the game by setting up Okafor for FTs, assisting on a Belinelli 3, and nailing a jumper. What concussion?
- DeMarcus Cousins picks up where he left off against the Hornets, nailing a couple long jumpers that don't touch rim and getting to the line on a drive. He follows that up with a pretty nice alley-oop off a pass from Thornton.
- Defense has been mainly optional so far. Both teams are shooting over 60% with under 4 minutes left in the 1st.
- Hornets crank up the defense a little bit to close out the quarter. An Ariza steal leads to a sweet double clutch dunk from Carl Landry. Landry needed that one, as he had gone 0-4 with a couple of FTs prior to the dunk.
- 31-24 for the home team after 1. Cousins leads all scorers with 10, but good shooting from Paul (6), Belinelli (7), and West (9) have the Hornets ahead. Paul has 5 assists.
- Hornets start the 2nd with 5 bench players and Carl Landry promptly dives in for an and-1. Chris Paul jumps off the bench to help him up.
- Aaron Gray fouls a lot, but he also gets no benefit of a doubt when a play is close. 3 quick fouls and Jason Smith is about to check in. Sigh.
- Quincy Pondexter just made a sweet spin move for a layup and drew a foul on the next possession, promptly showing more on offense than he has in the last 5 games. More please.
- Some solid D being played by the Hornets bench right now. Quick rotations and close-outs all around.
- Jason Smith was actually decent in his minutes, hitting a jumper, getting a block, and grabbing a couple boards. He picks up his second foul and West comes back in. Within seconds, West hits a shot (Quincy assists). Could be a big night for Mr. West.
- Hornets bigs are having trouble with fouls tonight (lots of whistles all around). Okafor and Gray have 3, and Smith has 2. Landry playing alongside West now.
- Thornton showing up now. Hits a corner 3 off a deflected ball and gets a steal for a fastbreak lay-in. Follows that with an offensive rebound and put-back.
- Chris Paul just decided that Pooh Jeter can't guard him. After drawing an and-1 on a layup, he gave him a fierce crossover then fired a behind the back pass to West for an open jumper and followed that by drawing another and-1 on a drive. Cold. Blooded.
- Chris Paul and Marcus Thornton are now trading buckets. This would be way more awesome a few weeks ago. Right now it is making this a close game.
- Tied up at the half. Chris Paul is looking like a monster with 13 and 6. West and Landry taking care of the rest of the scoring load, with 13 and 12 respectively. Cousins and Thornton are leading the Kings with 14 and 12. Just realized that Samuel Dalembert also has 12. That's a good indicator of the interior defense the Hornets have had thus far.
- Chris Paul and David West are killing the Kings. Open the quarter with a score and an assist a piece, including a nice skip pass from West for an Ariza 3.
- Hornets interior D looks better with Okafor in, but they still have no answer for Thornton. I'd like to see Chris take him for a few possessions.
- Okafor commits his fourth and returns to the bench. Forgettable night so far from Mekatron.
- The Kings offense appears to be alternating isolations for Thornton and Cousins, and it is working. I keep wondering what will happen when Tyreke Evans comes back for this team. Only so many shots to go around, and all three of those guys like a lot of them.
- Belinelli is hitting shots, but getting burned by Thornton on the other end. Thornton now leads all scorers with 21. Anyone surprised by this? Anyone?
- Carl Landry is only 2/7 tonight but has managed 14 points so far due to earning 10 FTs and hitting 9 of them. He's been really aggressive under the basket with a couple of offensive rebounds, but can't finish over the taller Sacramento bigs when he is deep in the lane. Give this guy Jason Smith's height and you might have an All-Star.
- Samuel Dalembert is scoring a lot. Something about this game tells me a Landry-West front court will not work for prolonged minutes against better teams. Too short.
- Nice sequence from Landry to finish the 3rd. He gets an offensive rebound and put back and then swats a Casspi floater.
- Hornets down 85-84 after 3. Defense is looking lost without a center in the game. Sacramento is getting it inside quite often and converting with relative ease.
- Chris Paul looking to take this one himself. He's shaking up the Sacramento defenders and hits two jumpers to give the Hornets a 4 point lead. Timeout Kings.
- The Hornet defense has shown up. Only bucket in awhile for the Kings has been a ridiculous Thornton jumper with a hand in his face. Chris Paul is playing absurd basketball. This isn't even All-star Chris Paul. This is MVP Chris Paul. Just like that, Hornets up 12.
- Now Chis is now limping after getting knocked to the floor. Made me nervous, but now he appears to be okay.
- The Hornets just doubled Thornton out past the 3pt line. Apparently they want to make another King beat them. Good move.
- West hits a runner and the Hornets are pulling away. All it took was a quarter's worth of defense. Also, Emeka decided to show up. He altered a ton of shots this quarter and blocked a few. He just completed and-1 to put the Hornets up 17. Better late than never I suppose.
- I think Pooh Jeter's entire offensive game is 20-footers off the dribble. Like a mini Willie Green.
- Chris Paul goes to the line and knocks down his 32nd point. Where has this guy been? (insert head injury/memory joke)
This game came down to one team having a couple of legit All-stars and the other having a couple a promising youngsters. Once the Hornets cranked up their defense in the 4th, the Kings had no chance. Meanwhile, Chris Paul and David West scored easily and often all game.
Chris Paul's final stat line: 33 points (13-21(!)FG, 1-4 3P, 6-7 FG), 15 assists, 7 rebounds. 5 steals, and 2 turnovers. Unreal. I managed to get one question to Chris after everyone else had left. I asked him about taking 21 shots tonight, when for much of the season he hasn't approached that level. His response:
"It was just how it worked out. I've had games where I've taken 5 shots this year. It's just how it worked out."
Riveting stuff I know. Next time I'll work to be more aggressive and get some interesting stuff that you won't find anywhere else. Chris did have this to say about keeping an eye on the standings, with the bottom half of the West being so tight:
"You can't pay attention to it, because you can't control the other games. The only one you can control is yours."
On moving up to sixth in the West with a win:
" It's real close, but it's gonna change way too many times. When you get to the last three games, maybe you can start looking at what teams are resting their guys and stuff like that, but there's too many [games] left."
The other Hornet captain played his role to near perfection with 25 points (12-18, 1-2FT), 9 boards, 3 steals and an assist. The Kings had absolutely no one that could cover West and his 25 points looked near effortless. Good to see this from David after his relative struggles in the last two.
This game really showed the importance of Emeka Okafor to this team, as for the first 3 quarters, with Emeka in foul trouble, the Hornets simply traded baskets with the Kings. The Kings big men pummeled the Hornets inside with Dalembert, Cousins, and Thompson all in double digits. Drives from Casspi, Head, and Thornton were sprinkled in to allow the Kings to keep pace with Paul and West. When Emeka returned in the 4th, this came to an end. Okafor altered several Sacramento shots and had two blocks in the final period (finished with 3 in just 19 minutes). The Kings started settling for long jumpers or dumping it into Cousins, who had a much tougher time against Okafor in the 4th. That combined with Paul and West turning into stone cold closers? Game. Set. Match.
Knowing Chris would be swamped by the media, I decided to I would try to interview Carl Landry, after putting up a personal Hornet-high 20 points tonight. Of course the Hornets broadcast crew decided the same thing and I couldn't get a word in, and Carl left for the showers right after their questions. Even without exclusive quotes, I have to say that I came away very impressed with the former King tonight. He started a rough 2-7 from the floor, but managed to keep up his output by repeatedly getting to the line. He ended up finishing a more than adequate 5-10 from the field along with 10-11 from the line. He also had 3 offensive rebounds and 2 blocks. He was constantly in the mix for offensive boards and his hustle down low will be a much-needed part of this team down the road.
Decent night from the SG position as Belinelli had 12 and Green had 8. Belinelli started hot but cooled off late, while Green added in some jumpers across his minutes. Jarrett Jack came crashing back down to Earth, finishing 0-5 with 2 assists (both pretty). Unfortunately none of the above guys could effectively guard former Hornet fan favorite Marcus Thornton, who finished with 25 points on 11-19 shooting and 2-4 on 3s. Marcus was good Marcus tonight, and I expected as much. He scored with all the ways you've seen him score before, and Marco and Willie didn't do much to deter him. As I said in the live blog above, I'm really interested to see how the Kings handle Cousins, Evans, and Marcus. All of them have an extremely high usage rate, and something will have to give. Good to see Marcus excelling.
Good to see the Hornets put away a sub-par team tonight. Even better to see Chris Paul do what he just did. I'm signing off to go celebrate a friend's birthday. This was a great experience and I hope to get better at it as the season continues. Please leave any suggestions or criticisms in the comments. Too long? Stupid? Get more quotes dummy? Let me know. Geaux Hornets.