Bucks' losing ways continue
Peja Stojakovic hit a 3-pointer with 15 seconds left off a screen by Chandler, who also forced Bucks’ sharpshooter Michael Redd into an awkward final shot as New Orleans beat Milwaukee 111-107 on Wednesday night in the Hornets’ final game before hosting the All-Star game.
Oh, All-Stars David West and Chris Paul looked ready for their star-studded weekend, too, combining for 43 points and coming through when it counted.
“They’re the hosts,” said Hornets coach Byron Scott, who is coaching the West All-Stars. “I’m just a key contributor to what they’ve been able to do. I’m riding their coattails right now. It’s going to be fun to have it in our city and two guys represent our team. It’ll be fantastic.”
In the prelude to the first All-Star game in the Crescent City, the Hornets and Bucks put on an offensive show with both teams shooting 50 percent or better and the Hornets making it dramatic at the end.
Defense? Like the exhibition, it was optional in this one, too.
But Stojakovic and Paul, who finished with 21 points despite having flulike symptoms, bailed out New Orleans, which nearly choked a 105-98 lead after Paul split a pair of defenders and made a layup with 3:50 left.
“I hope this All-Star game is going to draw a lot of attention to the basketball we’ve been playing in New Orleans,” said Stojakovic, who finished with 19 points on 7-of-11 shooting.
It’s been the little things that New Orleans has done so well to rise to the top of the Western Conference. Already off to the best start in team history at 36-15, the Hornets are 16-4 since Jan. 1 and tops in the West after Phoenix lost at Golden State later Wednesday night.
Chandler, who finished with 15 points and 16 rebounds, made two plays in the final seconds that won’t show up in the boxscore.
After rookie Yi Jianlian, who had 13 points, hit an open 16-footer from the wing with 28 seconds to play to give Milwaukee a 107-106 lead, the Hornets executed a perfect play en route to their fourth straight win.
The Bucks’ defense focused on Paul as Chandler screened Charlie Bell to free Stojakovic on the wing. Paul delivered his 10th assist of the game, and Stojakovic hit his third 3 in as many attempts.
“We do a heck of a job of executing especially when the game is on the line,” Scott said. “Peja probably could’ve spinned the ball around a few times before he took that shot he was that wide open.”
Said Stojakovic: “It was great execution. What can I say?”
For the Bucks, it was more misery. Losers of seven of their last eight, they had a chance to tie when Redd, who had 30 points, tried to answer. But he missed an off-balance 3 after Chandler got a hand in his face and Paul grabbed the rebound with 5.8 seconds left to seal the win.
“We were trying to go for the win,” Redd said. “We could’ve tied it, but that would have won it.”
Instead, Milwaukee fell to 0-3 in a four-game homestand that also included blowing a 17-point third-quarter lead against the Knicks, a meltdown against the Clippers on Monday and this latest effort.
The frustrations have piled up, leading first-year coach Larry Krystkowiak to say Monday night that the team was separating and needed to set aside personal agendas. While the Bucks played better, the Hornets proved it wasn’t enough.
“We’re going to be OK,” Krystkowiak said. “There’s negativity floating around, but it’s contrary to what is (really) floating around. ... We need these four days to kind of charge up our batteries and come back in with a fresh approach.”
The Hornets have been one of the league’s biggest surprises.
They’ve done it by following a championship blueprint perfectly so far with the Western Conference’s best road record at 19-7 and a 22-4 mark against teams under .500 thanks to the efforts of Paul, Chandler and West, who finished with 22 points.
“(I’m) really proud of my team for the first half, but it’s just that, the first half of the season,” Chandler said. “The most important part is the second half and then going into the playoffs. We just have to keep out focus and make sure we’re ready to go when the All-Star break is over.”
But not until the Hornets have a little fun first.
“Words can’t describe it. My first All-Star game, in our home city,” Paul said. “I think if I make the All-Star game every year from here on out, it won’t be as special as this year.”