Hornets stick with current roster for playoff run

Updated: February 22, 2007, 8:21 PM ET
Associated Press

NEW ORLEANS -- Chris Paul suspected the New Orleans Hornets weren't going to get any additional help in their playoff push -- and he was happy about it.

"No offense to anybody but I'm fine with what we have," the star point guard said as the NBA trade deadline approached Thursday afternoon. "If it was up to me, we'd keep this team for the rest of my career."

The rest of his career may be a stretch, but Paul will get his wish for the remainder of a season that has seen the Hornets start strong, then plummet in the standings during a rash of injuries, and then climb back into the playoff picture during the past month-and-a-half.

Hornets general manager Jeff Bower decided against making any last-minute deals, leaving alone a roster that has produced 10 victories in 14 games.

The Hornets, playing most of their home games this season in Oklahoma City, host their fifth of six home games in New Orleans on Friday night against Seattle.

With Peja Stojakovic still recovering from back surgery he had in December, coach Byron Scott said the Hornets could have used an additional good outside shooter. Still, he was confident his current roster had enough to be a factor in the playoffs.

"We could have given up a long time ago, but guys that had to step up -- they did," Scott said. "You just had a number of guys step up when we needed them to and now they're back to their familiar roles. ... They kept us afloat. Now that we're healthy, as healthy as we're going to be without Peja, this is the time right now -- 27 games left -- you've got to try to make your run."

Stojakovic has begun working out with the Hornets again in the past couple weeks, jogging, lifting and shooting. He has not participated in practice, but showed he still had his range Thursday when he made a pair of nearly 30-foot shots while sitting on the Hornets' bench at the New Orleans Arena.

He made one of them after Paul said he'd give him $100 if he could make one in three tries. Stojakovic hit his first, causing Desmond Mason to buckle over laughing and lie on the floor.

Stojakovic is not yet sure whether he'll return this season, but he hopes he can, especially now that the playoffs seem like a strong possibility for the Hornets again.

"The team has been playing better lately and it's giving me hope and encouragement to work harder and try to make it back this year," said Stojakovic, who last summer signed a five-year contract with New Orleans worth about $64 million. "I don't know in what kind of shape I'm going to be, but the only thing I'm going to make sure is that I come back 100 percent physically ready. I don't want to come back 80 percent and then have setbacks and have it carry over to the next year. ... Hopefully we can continue winning and secure the playoff spot."

The Hornets have been winning consistently since Paul, David West and Bobby Jackson all returned from injuries. But another player who has stood out increasingly of late is center Tyson Chandler.

Chandler has always been strong on defense and rebounding. But in late January, Scott said he sat Chandler down in his office, and showed him his statistics.

"The only thing I told him then, I said, 'February has to be better. Let's average a double-double. You're more than capable of doing that. Let's average 14 rebounds and 11 points'," Scott recalled.

So far this month, Chandler has done even better than that, averaging 12.5 points and 16.7 rebounds per game.

"He's always going to rebound and defend. And now, with his offense developing, I think this is something that won't just occur for a month. Tyson will have this mentality for the rest of his career," Paul said.

"In his previous situation, I think there weren't too many plays called for him and therefore he wasn't aggressive on the offensive end. He thought he'd just play defense. But here, we give him the ball and we let him play."

Chandler, who spent his first five seasons with Chicago before coming to New Orleans in a trade, said he is the "most comfortable" he has been in his career.

"The difference is when coach sits you down and talks to you -- and he sat me down -- all of it is positive," Chandler said. "He transfers that to the games and to the court. He's not just telling you, 'I want you to do this, I want you to do that.' He's also putting me in a situation to accomplish that by throwing me the ball ... and playing me more minutes."

Meanwhile, West, who returned from his injury Jan. 19, has begun to show the form of last season, when he averaged 17.1 points per game. In a victory at New Jersey on Wednesday night, he scored 32.

It seemed like another good omen for a team trying to qualify for the playoffs for the first time in three seasons.

"We've done some big-time overhauling on this team the last few years," Scott said. "We've taken two steps back to start over and try to build the type of team that we want, an up-and-down type team, a very athletic team, a defensive-oriented team. And we're there. We're pretty close to that."

Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press

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