Eric Gordon gave Hornets owner-to-be Tom Benson a firsthand look at what he can do, and why keeping him around might help New Orleans become a playoff contender sooner than later.
Gordon scored 18 points as Benson watched from courtside seats, and the Hornets won for the fourth time in five games, upsetting the playoff-contending Memphis Grizzlies 88-75 on Sunday night.
“I’m trying to help this team and I’m looking forward to what comes in the future,” said Gordon, who will be a restricted free agent after the season. “The future’s bright here.”
Rudy Gay scored 24 points for Memphis, which is trying to stay in range of a top-four playoff seeding in the Western Conference. Marc Gasol added 11 points, but sat out the final 7:02 with what team officials described as a hyperextended left knee. He was scheduled to have further tests, including an MRI.
Benson, who owns the NFL’s Saints, attended his first game since Friday’s announcement that he had agreed to buy the Hornets from the NBA, which spent about 14 months trying to find a buyer who would keep the franchise in Louisiana.
Benson spoke to the team in the locker room before tip-off. He later received a standing ovation from the crowd when he was introduced, and the Hornets kept the applause coming as they pulled away in the fourth quarter from a Grizzlies squad that had won five of its previous six games.
“He’s looking forward to good things to come,” said Hornets forward Jason Smith, who had 14 points and 10 rebounds. “It feels great to have an actual owner.”
Carl Landry had 16 points and 11 rebounds for New Orleans, which has tied a season-best three-game winning streak. But Landry left the game in the final minutes with a left calf injury. He was not sure how serious the injury was.
Gordon has played in only seven games because of a right knee injury that required arthroscopic surgery. The Hornets are now 5-2 in games he has played.
Memphis was as close as 56-55 in the third quarter after Gay scored six straight points on a pull-up in the lane, a tough-turnaround jumper and another pull-up at the top of the key.
Rather than fold, the Hornets started pulling away as Landry put back his own miss and added a mid-range jumper. Gustavo Ayon scored inside to give New Orleans a 62-56 lead after the third quarter, then Ayon added a short jumper and rookie Jerome Dyson converted a transition layup to complete a 10-2 run that made it 66-56 early in the fourth.
“Our defense — period — was atrocious,” Memphis coach Lionel Hollins said. “We just didn’t muster up the energy that we needed to come out and play against a hard-working team on a back-to-back.”
Memphis got as close as 66-62 after Mike Conley‘s free throws, but could not get any closer as Landry’s double-pump driving scoop off the glass started an 11-4 Hornets run. The surge built to a crescendo when Smith found Marco Belinelli with a cross-court pass and Belinelli drained a 3 to make it 78-66 with five minutes to go.
The Hornets shot worse than 40 percent most of the game but wound up at 44 percent (32 of 73) by the end. Al-Farouq Aminu reached double-figures in scoring for a second-straight game, highlighting a 12-point night by soaring for a one-handed putback jam.
Memphis, which had beaten Utah at home a night earlier, got sloppy in New Orleans, turning the ball over 21 times, which led to 28 Hornets points.
“It was nasty, ugly,” a disgusted Hollins said about his team’s performance. “You can’t beat anybody scoring 75 points.”
Although they faded late, the Grizzlies built a lead as large as 11 in the second quarter after a 14-2 run highlighted by Gilbert Arenas‘ two 3-pointers. Mayo capped the spurt with a fastbreak layup that made it 34-23, but Gordon responded with a 21-foot baseline jumper and the Hornets started chipping away at the Grizzlies’ lead.
New Orleans shot only 31 percent in the first half (12 of 39) but was able to pull as close as 37-33 when Aminu snuck inside for an offensive rebound and dunk shortly before halftime.
Gay said the Hornets deserved credit for putting forth relentless effort despite being out of playoff contention, but then he added, “It’s a little bit on us as well. We were off.”
Benson was accompanied by several top Saints officials, including chief financial officer Dennis Lauscha and Saints general manager Mickey Loomis. … The Hornets are 5-1 in their last six home games, with the only loss coming by two points against the Los Angeles Lakers. … Memphis fell to 13-18 on the road. … The Grizzlies are 2-1 against the Hornets this season, and the teams meet once more in Memphis on Wednesday.
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