So said 247_Hornet in the comments, and so went the game.
Another quick start, another gradual, inevitable fall from an early lead. We've seen this script so many times in the early season, and the Hornets simply don't have a way to combat it right now. The primary suspect tonight was, without a doubt, Kevin Durant. He missed just 6 of his 17 shots and scored 29 points with relative ease. Trevor Ariza's absence was obviously a huge factor in the Hornets' failure to defend Durant adequately; in the pair's first two meetings a year ago, Ariza forced Durant into a 6 for 22 and 8 for 20 night, part of a very strong string of initial performances as a Hornet.
On this night, the Hornets gave Durant way too much space early, and he capitalized. Nobody else was particularly outstanding for Oklahoma; Westbrook took 20 shots to get his 22 points and didn't do too much creating, James Harden shot just 3 for 10 off the bench, and Thunders not named Kevin Durant went just 4 for 16 from three.
Overall, New Orleans limited Oklahoma City to 111.8 points/100 possessions; it's a higher than league average number, but it's not exactly a crooked figure either. Instead, it was the offense that was the bigger let down. Hit the jump for some more notes.
- Another rough shooting night from Marco Belinelli brings him to 14 for 43 from three on the season.
- Impossible not to like Chris Kaman's post game (when he's not settling for the 16 footer). He used Nick Collison and Serge Ibaka's aggressiveness against them very well, putting great back-to-basket move on both to score. I'm still not really sure how relegating arguably our best offensive player (Carl Landry) to the bench is working, but it kind of is.
The problem with Kaman remains, as always, his efficiency. 17 and 9 comprise a great box score line, but a closer look shows he used 19 possessions to get those 17 points (or right around 89 points/100 possessions). League average is normally around 107, and it's simply not as great a line as the raw numbers themselves would lead you to believe.
And here's Kaman destroying Russell Westbrook:
- Carl Landry the 6th Man is much more effective than Carl Landry the Starter. It's early days, but I don't think there's much question. He's looked a different player off the bench, and it's an affirmation of a career-long trend for him more than anything. And it's what makes the Kaman for Landry swap reasonably palatable. The downside for Landry was that he picked up just 2 offensive boards in 35 minutes (almost 4 per 36 coming into the game), but thankfully, picking up the slack was...
- Al-Farouq Aminu. In college, Aminu's one real elite skill was rebounding. Everything else was "upside," raw, etc. But the rebounding was always legitimately excellent - almost 5 offensive boards per 36 minutes and over 7 defensive. With the Clippers, that rebounding never really came to the forefront. He finished the year at 15% defensive rebounding (not terrible for his position honestly) and 11% total. This year, he's up to 21% defensive and almost 15% total. And he's really come on strong over the past three.
If Aminu can return to that one thing - elite offensive and defensive rebounding for his position - I'll be happy. Every athletic offensive and defensive play he makes around that is gravy.
Defensively, Aminu did a decent enough Ariza impersonation on Kevin Durant, despite KD's final line. The jumper's so indefensible that simply denying penetration -- which Aminu did on a reasonable basis -- isn't nearly adequate some nights. This was one of those.
- A solid second game from Dajuan Summers. And while neither Squeaky's nor Gustavo Ayon's lines were spectacular, their connection at the end of the first quarter was simply excellent. I'm really quite glad the Hornets decided to invest time and dollars in researching new D-League and international guys this summer, as opposed to retreading the same mediocre guys that seem to pop up on the annual list of "bad NBA teams." This team, despite their obvious inabilities, is still pretty fun to watch, and the appeal of rooting for underdogs like Squeaky and Gustavo is certainly a part of that.
- Per John Reid, Xavier Henry is close to making his Hornets debut, participating in practice. Awesome news.