Updated: Nov. 6, 2006, 7:59 PM ET

Shooting gains for Hornets

When I played with Peja Stojakovic in Sacramento, I quickly saw firsthand the kind of shooter he is. Six seasons later, there remains none better in the league, whether it's Ray Allen or Michael Redd.

Now followers of the New Orleans/Oklahoma City Hornets, the most active team in the free agent market in the offseason, are beginning to see the reason they brought him in.

The man can shoot.

After a slow start in the Hornets' first two games, Stojakovic is showing his stuff. His 5-for-8 shooting from the 3-point arc in Sunday's 96-90 win over the Houston Rockets helped send the New Orleans crowd home happy with a 3-0 start.

You saw him unafraid to let it fly -- he can make it from six feet from behind the line. This kind of range is no surprise to Hornets coach Byron Scott, who was once an assistant coach for the Kings.

This is a Hornets team that is only going to get better, having added solid pieces around Chris Paul and David West, including Peja, guard Bobby Jackson and center Tyson Chandler.

We saw a lot of Jackson and Paul playing together in the win over the Rockets. Jackson has more of a 2 mentality -- he's a scorer first and foremost. But I think you'll see, with the game becoming a lot smaller, a trend toward more use of two point guards on the court at the same time. Even three.

This could be a breakout season for West, who had 22 points to lead the way. Paul (a career-high tying 16 assists) is playing well beyond his years. (Yet another performance that the Hawks can kick themselves again over not picking him.)

Chandler, who had 11 boards to lead the Hornets, has a tendency to get in foul trouble, so depth behind him with the bigs is a question. They lost P.J. Brown, one of the game's stronger players on the boards.

As for the Rockets, now 1-2, I think you're seeing a team that just doesn't know what it's getting every night. They blew out the Mavericks, but were routed by the Jazz in their opener.

A lot of this early lack of consistency might become less of an issue once Bonzi Wells gets into game-shape. He's a great addition, and his many skills can help take the pressure off McGrady.

And Shane Battier was a tremendous pickup.

He's showing his all-around skills as a player on the court, but perhaps the biggest thing he brings is the potential to be the vocal leader the Rockets need.

Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady are not those kind of leaders -- that's not a knock against them, because you either are one or not. Shane is.

Having played for Jeff Van Gundy last season, I saw how much he values defense. That's why you see a guy like Chuck Hayes in there -- because of his commitment to defense. For the Rockets, I think it's going to take time to see what the rotation is going to be, and who Van Gundy finds are his best eight or nine guys out there.

Either way, these two teams are making the Southwest Division look very tough. You could see four of the five Southwest teams making the playoffs.

ESPN analyst Jon Barry, on the call for Wednesday's Pistons-Kings game (10:30 ET, ESPN), played 14 NBA seasons for eight different teams before retiring this season.

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Gift Of Grabs
Yao
Layne Murdoch/ /Getty Images
Peja Stojakovic, left, could not get this one out of the formidable mitts of Yao Ming, whose early foul trouble limited him to 17 points in 28 minutes. He had 36 against the Mavs on Saturday.


Observation Deck: Waiting For A Beating


WINNING TOUCH: Wow, we're already down to just three undefeated teams, and it might just be two when Monday night's games are over since the Detroit Pistons are playing at Utah tonight to start a four-game road trip. I like the Pistons to knock off the Jazz, which would leave the Hornets and Sixers the lone remaining unbeatens. Which of them will stay that way the longest? I'll take New Orleans/Oklahoma City, which plays its Oklahoma City opener Tuesday night against Nellie's Golden State Warriors. The Sixers also put their perfect mark on the line Tuesday night in Indiana, and I'm picking the Pacers in that one. -- Chris Sheridan

DOC WATCH: At the other end of the spectrum are the three winless teams -- Boston (0-3), Dallas (0-2) and Denver (0-2). The Mavs and Nuggets will be OK, but things are going to turn real ugly really quickly in Beantown if the Celtics don't get right soon. If they lose at home Wednesday to Charlotte, Doc Rivers jumps front and center as the coach most likely to become an ex-coach the soonest. -- Sheridan

BIG BUCKS: I thought Andrew Bogut and Charlie Villanueva could be great if they learned how to "beast it." Well, they are learning, and fast. The Bucks better be careful or they may feature the league's best "bigs" tandem before too long. Their skills mesh beautifully, and since each is only 22 years old (Bogut turns 22 later this month) their future is exceedingly bright. -- David Thorpe

IT'S EARLY, OK?: If you are wondering where the Miami Heat are after losing to Philly, I'll tell you; right where they were last season. They started 1-2 then too. The Mavs were 2-2 in their first four games last season. The Finals are played in June, not November. However, it is nice to see teams like Philly, Milwaukee, Minnesota, and Atlanta get off to decent starts. -- Thorpe

SEE WHAT DEVELOPS: I wonder if some of the teams who have started well are doing so at the expense of developing their young guys, who would make a difference for them later in the season. Randy Foye has played 22 minutes in three games and has not scored a point yet.

Shelden Williams has taken only 10 shots in three games (1-for-10), and has scored four points thus far. I have no problems with coaches trying to win, period, but if these two guys are not producing come springtime, we'll know why. They were picks 7 and 5, respectively, and should be ready to contribute right now. -- Thorpe

BIGS QUESTION: Yes: Yao Ming, Bogut, Dwight Howard, Chris Bosh, Zaza Pachulia, and soon Greg Oden and Joakim Noah.

The question; are there any young bigs who can play now that the league is going small. Throw in Charlie Villanueva and a healthy Amare Stoudemire too. How would a Finals look with Dwight vs. Yao in a few seasons?

Don't knock Pachulia's inclusion in that list. Insiders know he has game (he won't turn 23 until February). He is not your typical long-legged center, thus his lower center of gravity gives him excellent balance and coordination. Were he playing almost anywhere but Atlanta, you'd know how talented he is. -- Thorpe

BAND AT HAND: Slick Watts, part of a nightlong celebration of the Sonics' 40th anniversary, was not wearing his trademark headband during a cutaway interview in Sunday's Sonics-Lakers game. But fortunately his grandson on his shoulders was. The headband just didn't match his attire, the still slick-domed Watts explained. So that headband looked like a knit cap on Slick's grandbaby. -- Andrew Ayres



Back To The Ol' Drawing Board

• You would think that when an NBA team shoots at least 50 percent from the field and outrebounds its opponent by at least 15 it would win the game. Two NBA teams have done that this season -- the Celtics on Saturday night against Washington and Orlando against Philadelphia on Friday night -- and both lost! There were 41 instances last season in which a team made at least half of its shots and had at least 15 more rebounds than its opponent. Those teams were a combined 40-1!

Elias Says




Atlanta Rising

The Atlanta Hawks never trailed in their 95-82 win over the Orlando Magic Sunday, and with the win Atlanta moved over .500 for the first time since Nov. 20, 2002.

You can only hope to contain Hawks



Off To A Roaring Start
George Karl
Jesse D. Garrabrant/Getty Images
Allen Iverson is excited about the play of Kyle Korver, whose 3-point shooting is one reason the Sixers are 3-0. "He has to be that sparkplug off the bench," The Answer says.


Extreme Behavior
Allen Iverson

Sunday's Best
Sixers guard Allen Iverson: Continuing to shovel the dirt off his team, Iverson had 31 points and 13 assists as your unbeaten 76ers dumped the defending champ Heat sans Shaq, 107-98.

Turkoglu

Sunday's Worst
Magic forward Hedo Turkoglu: The Turk shot 1-for-10 and had three points in a 95-82 loss to the Hawks. Not a great step on Orlando's path to the playoffs.

Quote of the Day
"I know it doesn't mean nothing, but it means a lot to us."
-- Hawks forward Josh Smith, on Atlanta rising above .500 for the first time since 2002.

See how all 98 who played stacked up

-- Andrew Ayres



This Won't Help Sales Of Starbury Goods
Stephon Marbury

The New York fans were all over Stephon Marbury on Saturday night after he gave a shameful, mistake-prone effort that would have gotten him permanently banned from the playgrounds back in Coney Island had he showed up at his old stomping grounds with this much lack of game.

Marbury's final stat line was bad enough -- 1-for-9 shooting from the field, one assist versus six turnovers, a final point tally of a measly four -- but it didn't exactly do justice to how downright ugly this performance was, especially considering how it came from such an egocentric player who not so long ago was referring to himself as the best point guard in the NBA.

See the full Chris Sheridan blog Insider



The Key To Cavs' Success
LeBron James

Jim (Jackson, MS): Everyone seems to be handing LeBron James the MVP. I won't argue he may be the best player (like Kobe last season) but I still don't see enough pieces on the Cavs for a strong run. Your opinion?

Chris Sheridan: Agreed, Jim, to a point. Damon Jones and David Wesley would have been a couple of nice pieces to have two or three seasons ago, but not anymore. A big key will be what they get out of Larry Hughes, and whether he finally stays healthy.

I've heard second-hand that the Cavs have banished beat reporter Brian Windhorst to the upper deck, which is shameful. The guy has been covering LeBron James since LBJ was in 9th grade, and now you're going to make him sit 300 feet away from the biggest megastar Akron, Ohio has ever produced? Absurd.

Joey (Fresno): Sam Cassell doesn't seem to be held to the same zero tolerance everyone else is. Thoughts?

Chris Sheridan: Sammy is a case unto himself. Interesting that Steve Javie, formerly the quickest tech-giver in the NBA, held his whistle last night when Cassell was yapping at him in the final 15 seconds. It goes to my point of how different refs will respond differently, especially in late-game situations, in enforcing this crackdown. One thing I'll guarantee: This issue will have a lot more legs than the new ball issue as the season progresses.

See the full Chris Sheridan chat Insider



News And Notes
Carlos Arroyo

For the Magic, Carlos Arroyo tied a franchise record by making nine FG without a miss. Bo Outlaw went 9-9 at Washington in November of 1997. The Hawks led all the way in their 95-82 victory over the Magic. It was the first game in which Atlanta never trailed in nearly a year -- since a 122-111 win over the Knicks on Dec. 16, 2005.

• The Sixers are 3-0 and the only unbeaten team in the Eastern Conference. Allen Iverson has been over 30 points in all three games, though last night's 31 is a season low. Shaquille O'Neal missed the game with a bad knee, and Dwyane Wade had a season-high 11 assists... and a season-low one rebound.

-- ESPN Research

 

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