By Nick Peruffo
The Monty Williams era in New Orleans got off to a promising start Wednesday night, as the Hornets outlasted a talented Milwaukee Bucks team 95-91 thanks to solid contributions from veterans and newcomers alike.
Though the attitude around the Hive was cautiously optimistic, the Hornets recognize that the team still has plenty of room for improvement.
“We didn’t play particularly well, especially on the offensive end,” said off-season acquisition Trevor Aria after the game. “We didn’t shoot like we would have liked to. In the fourth quarter, we strapped it up on defense and got stops when we needed them. We got big rebounds when we needed them. We all played well defensively in the fourth quarter, and that’s why we won. The game was ugly. We played Milwaukee basketball, but we actually pulled it out.”
The stat sheet backs up Ariza’s assessment, as the the Hornets were only 4-of-17 from behind the three-point arc.
Hornets’ forward David West was the game’s leading scorer with 22 points, but collectively the New Orleans frontcourt was soundly outplayed by their Milwaukee counterpart. Andrew Bogut and Drew Gooden combined for 30 points and 26 rebounds, while West and Emeka Okafor totaled 22 points and 16 boards.
“I think, in terms of our game plan, we didn’t do what we set out to do, in totality,” West admitted. “It’s going to take time for us to find our rhythm and get everyone on the same page. There were times during the game where it showed that we hadn’t played together much. It’s a process for us and we’re going to continue to grow.”
Despite the cautious attitude in the locker room, there were plenty of bright spots for the Hornets.
Marco Belinelli, who was acquired via trade August 11, played solidly, scoring 18 points and grabbing six rebounds.
Ariza added an extremely interesting element on defense, guarding multiple positions on the floor.
And, as always, Chris Paul was supurb, scoring 17 points and dishing out 16 assists,
“The way they defended the ball screen tonight, it allowed me to get into the lane,” Paul said. “You know, like you guys saw in preseason, these guys can really shoot the ball. [David] West looked like he did back in Oklahoma City, every time he caught it he just let it ride. Every time he shoots it I think it’s going in.”
Williams himself focused primarily on the growth he has already seen defensively.
“It’s hard to say that now without watching the film, but we feel like we can disrupt teams with our smalls,” Williams said. “Trevor [Ariza] was amazing tonight guarding multiple positions and playing the floor at times… Emeka [Okafor] played great defense on [Andrew] Bogut…Chris (Paul) was amazing, talking on defense to make sure we were in the right sets. It was a good win for us.”