Blogging from New Orleans Arena, second row mid-court....
Same starting lineup for the Kings, but one defensive adjustment coach Paul Westphal informed me about. Kings small forward Desmond Mason will be guarding Hornets power forward David West most of the night in what is Westphal's best attempt to keep Kings power forward Jason Thompson out of foul trouble.
Thompson simply must be on the floor, but he kickstarted his old habit of drawing quick fouls against Oklahoma City on Wednesday. Thus, Thompson will guard small forward Julian Wright and Sean May will be on his old teammate, Emeka Okafor.
FIRST QUARTER - Kings 27, Hornets 25
Well, that was much better. The Kings looked nothing like the team that trailed 39-22 after one quarter in Oklahoma City two nights ago.
Two defensive stops in one possession at the start set a good tone, and a Sean May-to-Desmond Mason alley-oop did the same on the other end.
The good: Hitting shots (12 of 26), with Tyreke Evans finishing the layups he missed the other day and even hitting two jumpers. Also, Chris Paul has two points and no assists. May five first-quarter rebounds after having none in opener.
The bad: Kevin Martin is 2 of 9 despite getting a number of wide-open looks from Evans' penetration. Spencer Hawes two fouls.
Team playing very well so far...
SECOND QUARTER - Kings 50, Hornets 50
It's only a half, but the Kings look like an entirely different team from the other night.
They're moving the ball (13 assists against six turnovers, tying their assist total from the other night), defending (Hornets 44.7 shooting) and rebounding (24-23 edge in that category). Andres Nocioni is making up for Martin's slow start (4 of 13 shooting) with 11 points on 4 of 5 shooting.
The job of guarding West was quickly handed to Jon Brockman instead of Mason, and the rookie has been very effective even though West is 4 of 6 from the field. Brockman has eight rebounds in 11 minutes. Beno Udrih apparently won't be riding the pine all year, as he has logged nine first half minutes and run the offensive nicely. Hornets coach Byron Scott used a lineup with Bobby Brown and Chris Paul v. Udrih and Martin and Paul was his typical agitating self.
As for foul trouble, Thompson is doing fine (one foul) while Evans and Udrih have three.
THIRD QUARTER - Kings 75, Hornets 72
Another very good quarter, but a bad finish.
Beno Udrih plays off Chris Paul in the final seconds, and he coolly pulls up for a three that cuts Kings lead in half.
Otherwise, though, this was potentially an identity-forming period. There was an edge from the Hornets that they'll always have so long as Paul is their point guard, but the Kings showed more than enough moxie of their own. Offensive boards, poked eyes, frustrated Hornets, interesting stuff from this bunch tonight. Toughness, for sure.
Smart quarter from Martin, who continues to shoot poorly (8 of 23, no free throws) but who capitalized on the Brown-Paul defensive duo a few times. The most notable one came with 3:17 left, when the two Hornets point guards doubled Martin on the left wing and he kicked it back to a wide open Udrih for a three and an eight-point lead.
This has become a very physical game and the field-goal percentages reflect that (low 40s for both team).
FOURTH QUARTER - Hornets 97, Kings 92
Emeka Okafor decided it wasn't to be.
The Hornets wouldn't lose their home opener, not against a Kings team considered so bad they would've been laughed out of their building by their home fans. So he had a spectacular putback dunk in the final minute, followed by a key block with 5.9 seconds left when Evans got lost in the lane and yet another block on a Martin three-point attempt with three seconds left that could have tied the game.
More to come, but I've got to hit the locker room now... - Sam Amick