Don't look now, but the Hornets are coming together.
But here we are, 36 games in, finally seeing the team that Monty and Dell built. It's understandable that we doubted whether the plan was sound (will Anderson/Davis fit well? Why continue to start Lopez? Where the hell is Gordon? What of Aminu?).
Some even went as far as questioning whether there was a plan in place! (Eric Gordon uncertainty, the "positional" duplicity of Anderson and Davis. The redundancy of drafting Rivers when we had Gordon, the lack of pursuit for a competent SF).
All of that is justifiable, to an extent.
But it was all too early. The posters suggesting that we couldn't judge Dell and Monty until the team was completely healthy and had played a few games together were totally on point.
This game was basically a test for the young (and finally healthy) Hornets team -- could the Hornets sustain the intensity that they displayed in their short but sweet 3 game winning streak? Early returns were not good; the Hornets were down by as much 18 before a Ryan Anderson 3 brought it down to just 15.
Things were clearly not working. MIN was clicking on defense and on offense. Nothing worked. And then in a stroke of brilliance, Monty decided to play Roger Mason for the entire 2nd quarter (and relegate Rivers to the bench). The Hornets finally broke even on the deficit. It was still not enough. Monty continued to tinker with the lineups. And then he found a combination that worked - Eric Gordon as the primary ball handler, Roger Mason and Ryan Anderson as support scorers and spacers, Lopez and Aminu as the defenders (one for each of their scorers - Pekovic and Kirilenko).
And suddenly from being down 15, it was now down to just 6.
But it wasn't over. It's a well known fact that the Hornets get outscored in the 3rd at home. According to NBA.com, New Orleans is outscored by 5 points on average in the 3rd quarter at home. Instead, the Hornets executed out of the half.
The Hornets went on to win the 2nd half by 18 points (64-46) and converted a 6 point halftime deficit into a 12 point win thanks to a huge 2nd half effort from Jason Smith, Al Farouq Aminu and "The General" Greivis Vasquez. Didn't expect that right? On to the bullets:
- It would be a total failure of a recap if the 1st bullet wasn't about the top reason why we won -- Vasquez. As I've said, the most welcome improvement that we are seeing from Vasquez is his shooting. Tonight? 2-5 from deep. Now that he's becoming a threat from deep range, teams aren't going under screens -- which has opened up the lane for him where he can use his strength to just push smaller defenders away. Also, seeing more of those postups. Love those instances because it's a wise investment for the future.
- Vasquez had two sidekicks for this win -- Al Farouq Aminu and Jason Smith. Each one contributed in different ways. Al Farouq Aminu contributed through his rebounding and turnover generation (a 27% TRB, 3 steals and countless other disru[tions). Jason Smith on the other hand contributed really well on offense -- hitting 100% of his shots in the 4th. In fact, he and Vasquez teamed up to score 8 straight points of pick-and-pops. Vasquez was doing "The Nash" -- that beautiful pocket pass that's right in the shooting pocket for the player.
- Roger Mason was once again the spark that fueled our comeback bid that started in the 2nd quarter. Don't expect this hot shooting to continue (again, the life of a shooter is very very inconsistent) but he'll help a lot like Ryan Anderson has even on cold shooting nights -- teams have to respect his jumper which will open up everything for Lopez, Davis, Gordon and Vasquez.
- Mandatory Gordon FG bullet: 6-16 from the field, 1 of 6 from three. It'll come. It has to. Right?
- Mandatory Davis bullet: Was I the only one alarmed by the lack of rebounding from the rookie?? Rohan captured it well --- Anthony Davis' defense has been underwhelming. His offense has also been up-and-down. Fatigue might finally be creeping in on the rook. Energy was definitely depleted on most possessions tonight for the Brow.
- For all those interested, I really like John Hollinger's Power Rankings. It combines W/L%, Strength-of-Schedule (SOS) and point margin for the year, W/L%, SOS and point margin for the last 10 and the Home/Away schedule to come up with a point system for how good a team has been. The Hornets - despite owning the worst record in the West and 3rd worst in the entire league -- are 22nd (ahead of teams with better records like PHI, DAL and ORL among others). A large part of that is we were able to survive a brutal opening schedule. Good times ahead. I hope.
- The next 3 games will be winnable. NYK is currently banged up and we have players to "match up" with their players. BOS and PHI are barely treading water. Looking forward to the next 3 games.