Just like they did against the Hawks and in their first matchup with the Rockets earlier in the preseason, the Hornets entered the 3rd quarter either leading or trailing by a slim margin, with a chance this time to take advantage of playing on their home court. Unfortunately it was more of the same as Houston outscored New Orleans 29-16 in the the 3rd quarter and held on for a 97-90 victory at the New Orleans Arena on Wednesday night.
First-round pick (and former Kentucky teammate of Anthony Davis) Terrence Jones had a superb night for Houston, scoring 15 points and grabbing 9 boards in a matchup of former Wildcats. Carlos Delfino added 20 points off the bench, while Omer Asik (who looked great as well) added 7 points and 14 rebounds and Chandler Parsons and Kevin Martin poured in 18 and 15 points, respectively.
Ryan Anderson led New Orleans with 23 points (5-of-7 on threes) and 8 rebounds in 26 minutes off the bench, while Davis (13 points, 8 rebounds, 3 blocks) and Greivis Vasquez (13 points, 11 assists) had nice stat lines as well. Houston improved to 4-2 in the preseason, while the Hornets dropped their 4th straight to fall to 3-4.
There was a lot to take away from this game, especially with Friday's game in Miami being the last chance for this team to get its feet wet and build on its chemistry and execution before the regular season begins next week. So let's get to it:
- Although the Hornets played pretty decent team defense, the Rockets had a great shooting night, especially from downtown where they went 12-for-27. Parsons (4-of-6), Martin (3-of-6) and Delfino (4-of-9) were the main reason for this. All three are above-average shooters from deep and proved that tonight, taking advantage of the good looks they got. Its pretty clear that Houston's offense is going to be reliant on the three-ball, with Jeremy Lin looking on par with Greivis Vasquez (we'll get to him later) running the offense, Omer Asik still working on his game, and their other young bigs (Jones, White, Patterson) all still works in progress.
- Ryan Anderson proved he (aside from Eric Gordon of course) is the most valuable member on this team this year, especially on offense. When he is in the game the team is able to spread out the defense (who has to respect his range) and execute their offense more effectively. Even when Anderson doesn't get an open look, because the defense has to rotate/switch to cover him when he's feeling it, that leaves open shots for others (as Darius Miller and Roger Mason were able to take advantage tonight). And yet for some inexplicable reason (hopefully just preseason experimentation), Robin Lopez (31 minutes) continues to get more minutes than Anderson (26 minutes). Robin has shown detractors (such as myself) that he can provide effective minutes to the team and even contribute (at times) on offense, but what he takes away from the team (less spacing, less rebounding) is not worth the sacrifice. It's time for Anderson to start starting the game and playing 32+ minutes for this team.
- Darius Miller is a solid player folks; he hits the shots he gets when he gets them, he makes good decisions and puts the ball on the floor and drives when the longball isn't there, and he plays good enough defense already that he should get serious consideration to start at small forward at opening night. Lance Thomas at the three just isn't a good fit, Davis and Anderson can play there in small doses, and Xavier Henry looks downright awful; if Aminu hasn't convinced Monty he's ready to take the job for good (still no word on why he didn't play in this game), Miller has shown enough to merit the starting job. Perhaps more of an indictment on others than anything, but he has shown enough this preseason to get the chance.
- Brian Roberts and Lance Thomas are 11th and 12th men (no particular order) on this team or any other. That's just the cold, hard truth. Both can bring specific things to the table and help the team in small doses (Roberts especially with his explosiveness, solid mid-range game and change-of-pace ability) but neither should get significant minutes (10-15 at most) or have a significant role, even on a team as young as this one. Roberts is more sloppy and out-of-control at times than Vasquez and his decision-making is not good, even for a backup point guard. Thomas is playing out of position at small forward but even at the 4 he is undersized and can't do anything well enough to challenge Smith, Lopez or even Warrick for minutes.
- Greivis Vasquez...oh brother. If you didn't watch the game and just glanced at the stat sheet, you could deduce that he had a productive night; 13 points, 11 dimes and a +/- of +2 in 30 minutes of play. But Vasquez had 8 turnovers in the game (the Hornets as a team had a staggering 24 turnovers, not a formula for wins in this league to say the least) and its surprising that's all he had considering some of his decision-making. I'm a big supporter of Greivis' and like the methodicalness and deliberateness he plays the position with. But when he turns the ball over like he did tonight while missing easy scoring opportunities in the process (Anderson behind the arc, Davis cutting to the rim, etc.) all he's going to do is fuel the fire of "Is he ready/capable of starting in the NBA?" and perhaps force Austin Rivers (once he returns) to take over the reigns earlier than expected. I already miss Jarrett Jack, and that's not something the organization wants fans to say with such a promising backcourt, even if we haven't seen Gordon play a minute with this group yet. It's time for Vasquez to step his level up a notch if he wants to keep his job as well.
Not all was bad for the Hornets on this night; the team shot 47% (8-of-17) from three point land and didn't look nearly as inept on offense as they have at times this preseason. Again, this will get remedied at least somewhat when we see Jason Smith and Eric Gordon return to the floor, as their impact on the game and this team on the offensive end cannot be overstated. As long as this team refrains as much as possible from posting up Lopez and Davis in the block (I seriously can't watch either of them in the post, even if they both convert the occasional awkward hook shot) and focuses on spacing the court and providing lanes for the guards to penetrate (that means going down the lane Vasquez, not side-to-side!) and pass or finish, the offense will improve.
Spacing is really important to a good NBA offense and this team can't do it with Lopez on the court and shooters on the bench. More minutes to Anderson and Miller and the return of our shooting guards from injury will mean a much better Hornets team next week. Before that, they travel to Miami to face the defending champs on national television. Let's hope Friday's contest provides the team with the opportunity they desperately need to work on the negatives. The preseason is almost over; let the countdown to Opening Night begin.