Is it too soon to begin getting excited about the Hornets? Short answer: yes. Two games do not a season make.
Long answer, though? You really have no reason not to at this point. The Hornets are 2-0, they’re playing well, executing Monty Williams’ system and they just notched a 101-95 victory against a Denver team that put up 110 points on the Utah Jazz.
Not only that, but after the game, Williams talked about how pumped up his players were to head down to San Antonio and play the Spurs tomorrow. These Hornets are hungry and excited, so it’s OK if their fans are too.
After all, Chris Paul made huge plays down the stretch (10 points in the fourth
Granted, with all the brewhaha surrounding the Nuggets organization, it’s hard to say whether or not they’re hitting on all cylinders. But for all the drama and spectacle Carmelo Anthony brought with him, he still managed to put up 24 points.
The Hornets, though, were resilient all game long. You have to be when you blow 16-point and 10-point leads. The second team bench is playing competently, if not out-right productively, combining for 37 points. That includes a stretch midway through the second quarter when they hit three-pointers on three straight possessions to push the score to 45-34 as Paul was getting ready to come back in the game.
The importance of having a bench that can keep leads means that Paul can keep himself on the bench. It seems like every season since Chris Paul’s been drafted the talk has been about his minutes. And for all the talk Byron Scott, Jeff Bower and Monty Williams have devoted to keeping Paul’s minutes down, they were handcuffed by the fact that the Hornets were only competitive with Paul on the floor.
We may be headed in the right direction. Though Paul played just over 37 minutes tonight, nine players had double-digit minutes and no one played less than 5:27. Williams clearly trusts his players, even when there are so many questions about their talent.
A lot will be made of Monty Williams’ decisions as a head coach and the direction that this team will take under his guidance. Early returns are good. After losing their 10-point halftime lead, Williams called a timeout to calm his troops. It resulted in the Hornets tying the game with 6:20 left, taking the lead and then not looking back.
But there were still some tense moments. When Paul came up gimpy after Billups fouled him with 3:28 left in the game, it was hard not to hold your breath. The Hornets committed three straight turnovers in the beginning of the fourth quarter and the Nuggets capitalized to take a five-point lead. It seemed like every time the Hornets took control of the game, they found a way to keep the Nuggets in it.
And yet, you can’t say this Hornets team didn’t close. Though the score was close, this game ended when David West hit his turnaround jump shot to beat the shot clock and put New Orleans up six with 43 seconds left, the game was well in hand.
Yes, it’s too early to start talking about playoffs and, to paraphrase Williams, the Hornets will get their butts kicked by some team this season. But optimism reigns right now and there’s nothing wrong with that.