The Hornets hit some jump shots tonight and had a chance to tie the game with 16 seconds left, and instead committed their 15th turnover, allowing the Jazz to effectively ice the game. While the Hornets offense was much, much better than it had been in the last two games, the defense slipped noticeably, especially on the inside. Al Jefferson was the main beneficiary of the porous Hornets interior D, scoring 22 points on his variety of unorthodox inside shots. Hornets also could not seem to defend Devin Harris (maybe understandable) or Josh Howard (huh?) without fouling, as the pair of them combined for 18 trips to the line. Jarrett Jack bounced back from an atrocious effort last night in Sacramento, with a big night to the tune of 27 points, 11 assists, 5 rebounds, and 2 blocks(!). Some notes after the jump.
Jason Smith was huge off the bench, starting off the night 4-4 and finishing with 16 points on 8-13 shooting with 8 boards. His defense was not great, but his activity level is ridiculous. He is all over the place at all times when he is on the court. This can be both good and bad, but tonight it resulted in a few extra rebounds and a key block. That jumper is still as sweet as ever, just please stop with the pump-fakes, Jason.
It's a good thing Smith was on fire, because Carl Landry was a complete no-show. 3 points on 3 shots, 3 boards, 2 dimes, and bad defense. When Carl is not scoring, his lack of rebounding and defense makes him a pretty big liability out there. No surprise that Monty only played him 17 minutes, especially with Smith hitting his jumper.
Emeka Okafor started out the game well, scoring on a hook and a short jumper, but was not as successful in the second half. He sat out for quite awhile with Monty going with a Smith-Kaman front court, and didn't seem to get back into the flow of the game well when he returned in the 4th. Monty closed the game with Smith and Kaman. Mek finished with 7 points and 5 boards.
Speaking of Kaman, Chris played the most minutes (28) of any of the bigs, and responded with 14 points on 6-7 shooting and 6 boards. His flat-footed jumper was falling beautifully and he got the rest of his points with tip-ins and post ups. Turnovers continue to be a big problem for Chris, and he finished with 3 tonight. Watching the game, I thought he had more than 3, and could have had many more if not for some lucky bounces. Also, Kaman's defense is not good. He will block a few shots because of his size, but he is caught out of position way too often. I get the feeling that Monty would rather keep Emeka in, for his superior defense, but can't afford to keep Kaman off the floor with the trouble the Hornets have had with scoring. It will be interesting to see how and if their minutes change when Eric Gordon returns.
Marco Belinelli is shooting 24% in the last 3 games, and he has started all of them. He played 36 minutes tonight and shot 2-9 for 6 pts, had 3 boards, and 3 TOs. Eric Gordon can not come back soon enough.
I think this game may quiet the "Start Vasquez." chatter. 0-4, 0 points, 1 assist, 2 TOs, and 2 PFs in 9 minutes. And his actual game looked worse than his box score does.
One bright spot was the much-improve play of Al-Farouq Aminu. He started out slashing aggressively to the basket off the ball and quickly earned two and-1s, and drew a couple more fouls. If he is going to be a factor offensively, this is how he will do it. He finished with 11 points on 3-4 shooting with 1 rebound, a block, a steal, and 1 turnover. By cutting off the ball, he eliminates the need for his biggest weakness, which is dribbling. He attempted two dribble-drives today and one of them resulted in his only turnover. If he can keep scoring on these cuts and keeps up his solid rebounding and defense, he may be able to earn some meaningful minutes this year.
We have to hope that Aminu's progress tonight was real, because Trevor Ariza went down with a groin strain tonight. Trevor has been one of the only consistent performers for the Hornets this year (sounds weird, I know), and things could get ugly if Aminu reverts to his train wreck on roller-skates offense, or if Belinelli doesn't remeber how to shoot soon. At this point, (assuming Gordon plays Wednesday) I'd start Aminu at the 3 and see if he can show us something with some decent minutes. Knowing Monty, we may see Beli start at a 3rd different position this year.
Trey Johnson played 11 minutes, and was not terrible. Monty did yank him after one bad airball and he did not return.
Can't say enough about Jarrett Jack tonight. He made some mistakes, and a few of them were costly late in the game, but this one could have been a blow out without him scoring and finding Smith and Kaman for open jumpers. I know this guy has started for a lot of his career, but I doubt he has ever been asked to shoulder this much of the offensive load, as he has to do for this team while Gordon is out. He is going to have some bad games, and he is going to make a lot of mistakes, but Jack played his but off tonight for 40 minutes, on the second night of a back-to-back. 27-5-11, 2 blocks and only two turnovers. Props to Jarrett for a great bounce-back game.
Hornets look to break this 3 game losing streak at home on Wednesday versus the Sixers, and hope to have Eric Gordon back in the starting lineup. Hopefully his return will energize this team. Happy New Year, everybody. Geaux Hornets.