By Nick Peruffo
While the city of New Orleans still may not be completely over its post-Super Bowl hangover, the Hornets made another loud statement Saturday night that the Saints aren’t the only elite professional team around. New Orleans remains the league’s sole unbeaten squad after thoroughly outplaying the Portland Trailblazers 102-87, bringing their record to 8-0. As has been the case for most of the young season, suffocating defense and energy off the bench propelled the Hornets to victory.
“It’s good to get a win and play our style of basketball,” forward Trevor Ariza said. “It’s the defense every night. It helps us make up for the mistakes we make on offense. It’s been the key for us. We’re all supposed to be one unit and that’s what we try to display out there on the defensive end. We know our offense is going to come. We’ve got players here that can score with the basketball. In order to do what we’re trying to do, we have to get it done on the defensive end.”
The Hornets defense was particularly effective shutting down all-star guard Brandon Roy. Before leaving the game in the third quarter with an apparent knee injury, the typically prolific Roy was held to only 2 points in 20 minutes of action, shooting just 1 of 7 from the field.
No Blazer scored more than 20 points, as French import Nicolas Batum led the way for Portland with 16.
“Defense is what’s going to win games,” said center Emeka Okafor, who posted his second double-double of the season with 14 points and 12 rebounds. “We have to look at just getting better and getting better at what we do. No matter what the score is, we have to stick to our principles.”
Offensively, Okafor wasn’t the only Hornet to contribute. Seven players on the New Orleans roster scored in double figures, with bench sparkplugs Jason Smith and Jarryd Bayless just missing out on the party, with 6 and 8 points respectively.
Starters David West and Marco Belinelli led the way for the Hornets with 18 points each.
“Its just about being ready and being prepared,” veteran sharpshooter Peja Stojakovic said. “When your name is called up, you have to use that opportunity as best as you can.”
Stojakovic, who has been largely supplanted in the New Orleans lineup by offseason acquisitions like Belinelli and Trevor Ariza, gave the Hornets a major boost with 11 points off the bench. It was his first game action since scoring 7 points against Denver October 29.
“I saw a diagram on TV the other night and it listed the best shooters in the history of the game and Peja was on that list and it just kind of shocked me,” head coach Monty Williams said. “I always thought Peja was a great shooter, but I was like ‘wow.’ I just thought the matchups fit his game tonight. They played small ball in that second unit, they had Dante Cunnigham out there and I thought we could go zone a little bit to – not hide him – but we could get away with it for a minute. He can shoot in his sleep. For him to come off the bench like that and help us was huge.”
The only major Blazers run the Hornets were forced to fend off came at the beginning of the third period. The Batum-led charge cut the New Orleans lead to 6 on a number of occasions but was never able to take the lead. The bench unit of Smith, Bayless and Willie Green stemmed the turning tide with pure hustle and defensive effort, re-extending the lead back to 9 by the end of the quarter.
“We didn’t like the third quarter at all,” Williams said. “We gave up 31 points and that was all I talked about in-between the third and fourth quarter. That’s not our style of basketball. [You] Give up 30 points in a quarter, to any team, you’re not going to win that many games. The guys took it to heart. For them to come out and hold a good team to 21 points says a lot about our defense, but also says a lot about the attention to detail in the timeouts.”
The Hornets will try to continue their winning streak Monday in Dallas with a Southwast Division showdown against the 6-2 Mavericks.