PER Diem: March 10, 2009
The Hornets' winning streak is finally over, but the team has bigger concerns
ATLANTA -- Mike Woodson might be getting a lot of calls from Western Conference coaches in the coming days and weeks, because his Hawks appear to have found a formula for doing something virtually no other team has accomplished: Shutting down Chris Paul and the New Orleans Hornets.
Atlanta held the Hornets to 40 percent shooting and a mere 12 free throw attempts en route to an 89-79 win Monday night that snapped the Hornets' seven-game winning streak -- the second time in two meetings the Hawks have held the Hornets to 79 points. New Orleans, which came into the game ranked eighth in the NBA in offensive efficiency at 107.2, rates a meager 91.3 in its two games against the Hawks.
The Hawks' approach is tailor-made to stopping the Hornets because they switch every screen-and-roll and have big men with enough dexterity to keep Paul in front of them and turn him into a jump shooter.
"The way they switch, it's not really too much of a mismatch because they're all the same size," said Tyson Chandler. "We wasted a lot of time on the shot clock dribbling back and forth."
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So while Paul still finished with 24 points and 10 assists, he needed 19 shots to do it and committed six turnovers -- usually with Al Horford or Josh Smith blocking his vision and turning him into a jump shooter.
"We missed Peja [Stojakovic]," said Hornets coach Byron Scott, "because when they're switching they're sitting all in the paint, so it's hard for [Paul] to break the guy down because there's another guy waiting. But it's a pretty good strategy if you've got athletic guys that can do it."
However, of greater concern for New Orleans were two recurring problems that again reared their ugly heads -- a no-show from Chandler in the middle and another disastrous performance by the bench.
Chandler had played well during the team's seven-game winning streak, perhaps chastened by his near trade to Oklahoma City at the trade deadline, but on Monday he finished with two points and five rebounds in 39 minutes and appeared to have trouble dealing with Hawks wide-bodies Horford and Zaza Pachulia.
Meanwhile, the Hornets' bench scored only seven points, and coach Byron Scott essentially used a six-man rotation. The one stretch where he went deeper was in the decisive second quarter, when an eight-point lead turned into a seven-point deficit as the Hornets scored only 12 points.
"The second quarter was awful," said Scott. "I thought our guys came in and did a terrible job, giving them layups, offensive rebounds. Whatever we could do wrong in the second quarter we did, and we're just putting too much pressure on our starters to play the heavy minutes they're playing."
As a result, it appears the Hornets' second unit will again be in flux. Scott said that Devin Brown would be back in the rotation and Ryan Bowen might as well, but didn't seem nearly as bullish on the prospects of Sean Marks and Hilton Armstrong, who combined for nine minutes without a rebound.
"I have to make some changes," said Scott. "I can't sit there and watch this. I'm trying to give [Paul] rest until the 6-minute mark in the second quarter and get [David West] 5 or 6 minutes, but when I do that, leads evaporate."
From the Hawks' side, they won't get to torment the Hornets with their switching until next season, but one big takeaway is the return of Joe Johnson. Because for all the trouble Atlanta gave New Orleans on defense, it also helped cut off the Hornets' running game by making baskets. Johnson, who scored 30 points in a game for the first time since Dec. 27, was the key to that attack, and it was a very welcome recovery considering the Hawks went 16-18 since he last dropped 30.
They'll need Johnson to keep playing at a high level because the schedule doesn't get any easier. While the Hawks are in a stretch of 12 games with 11 at home, their next opponent is Utah, which may be riding in on a 13-game winning streak -- the second stop in what's being dubbed locally as the Hawks Draft Regrets tour, in which Paul, Deron Williams, Danny Granger and Brandon Roy all pay visits to Philips Arena in the same week.
"This is what we worked towards," said Woodson, "starting out with 14 of 22 on the road. We hit a lull the last couple months in terms of trying to maintain, so this is a month and a half we were looking towards."
John Hollinger writes for ESPN Insider. To e-mail him, click here.