Gustavo Ayon leads the NBA in reverse layups (not really).
I really apologize for channeling my inner Gil with the title. The Hornets beat the Cavaliers tonight behind some solid defense, good inside play, and poor shooting from Cleveland. Marco Belinelli and Jarrett Jack were money from mid-range while Kaman and Ayon scored inside. Kaman and Ayon combined for 30 points and 30 rebounds, as the pair dominated the glass. Hornets won despite the fact that their best player as of late, Trevor Ariza, failed to make a field goal in 20 minutes before leaving the game with a possible lower back injury. Player notes and random thoughts after the jump.
Obviously I'm starting with my favorite Hornet, Gustavo Ayon. Even this guy's mistakes look like good ideas. When he adjusts to the speed and length of NBA players, watch out. Goose (Fine, I give.) finished with 9 points on 7 shots and 17(!) rebounds (6 offensive). After getting beat several times by Antawn Jamison in the first half, Goose looked like he figured out Antawn's unorthodox game a little bit , as the former All-Star finished with 22 points on 22 shots. Ayon's 17 boards are tied for a team high this season, and he also chipped in 4 assists, 2 steals, and a block. The pass I loved the most didn't even get Ayon an assist, as he grabbed a tough rebound in traffic and threw a perfect outlet pass to a streaking Jarrett Jack who was grabbed from behind to prevent the layup. That is not a pass I'm used to Hornet big men making. No question in my mind that Ayon has the highest basketball IQ on the team.
Goose's partner in the post tonight, Chris Kaman, finished with a great line of 21 points and 13 rebounds, grabbing several clutch rebounds late in the fourth. However, as we've come to expect from Kaman, his 21 points came on 25 shots and he complimented all those bricks with 4 turnovers. Despite the crazy number of attempts from Kaman, I was relatively happy with his game, as he was an impact defensively throughout the game. The guy is huge and alters shots in a way the Emkea Okafor, despite probably being a better shot-blocker), cannot. That combined with his showing on the glass and his 3 assists earn him a passing grade in this guy's book.
Greivis Vasquez started again and was successful on a few of his drives, hit a three, and had a few of his normal slick passes to get to his 11 points and 5 assists. Unfortunately he committed 5 turnovers in the 4th quarter alone, in what looked to be an apparent attempt to please those among you who are cheering for lottery balls instead of wins right now. Before that stretch, Vasquez was playing solid basketball, but more turnovers than assists for your starting PG is unacceptable. Hopefully he can consistently be the guy in quarters 1-3 because....
I'm starting to like Jarrett Jack off the bench, especially considering the sorry excuse for a second unit the Hornets have been trotting out lately. With offensively challenged wings and D-Leaguers making up the front line, Jack's ability to get his own shot repeatedly kept the Cavs at arm's length. His flat-footed floater is a thing of beauty. Letting Jack handle the ball for most of the possession only dumping to someone else to finish, eliminates the need for any of the aforementioned guys from trying to create anything off the dribble. Jack's two baskets in the final two minutes helped put this one out of reach.
Marco Belinelli had a great offensive game despite not making a 3-pointer until the final minute of the game. Instead of bombing from deep, Marco did his best Rip Hamilton impersonation, nailing several mid-range jumpers off a series of screens. He finished with 18 points on 8-13 shooting. Not sure where this guy has been up until February, but at his current production, this guy is worth every penny of the contract he got this summer. If he plays like this for the rest of they year, he'll earn another nice contract whether it is in New Orleans or elsewhere.
Now some bad news. Trevor Ariza, who has been nothing short of amazing this month, went down with an apparent lower back injury with 6 minutes remaining in the 3rd. I believe he was injured while taking a charge from Kyrie Irving. Before going down, Trevor was not playing up to his recent level, missing all 6 of his FG attempts, though he did have an unsurprising 6 boards, 3 assists and 2 blocks. Hopefully the injury was nothing serious (for once this season), and Trevor is 100% after the All-Star break. Get some rest, Trevor. You deserve it.
Al-Farouq Aminu played some decent minutes, including a nice dunk on a dump off pass from Jack. He's been getting one of those in almost every game recently. More please. He had a really nice hook shot in the post that surprised me, and finished with 6 points on 7 shots (I can't remember 7 shots). I'm becoming convinced that Aminu may never develop the perimeter skills to be a decent SF in the NBA, but could actually turn into a decent backup PF off the bench. He has the length, and actually looks almost the exact same size as Antwan Jamison.
Xavier Henry is aggressive and plays good defense, but cannot dribble with his right hand or shoot at all.
Kyrie Irving shot 2-13, but finished with 11 assists to 2 turnovers. He's a keeper. Even on an off night, I was impressed.
That's it. I've decided that I am not capable of rooting for losses, so I'm just gonna go with the flow for the remainder of the season. If the Hornets win, cool. If they lose, cool (after an hour or so). If i was really all-in for operation tank, there's no way I could actually watch the games. This team plays WAY too hard for me to hope for them to lose. Monty has done a great job with this group, and I'm about as happy as I could be with the job that the coach of an 8 win team is doing.
Be sure to check out the All-Star weekend festivities where absolutely none of your Hornets will be appearing. Whatever, they earned the rest, and we all know Gustavo Ayon got absolutely hosed in the Rising Stars game.