NEW ORLEANS - The New Orleans Arena is starting to sound a lot like Tiger Stadium. Each time Hornets rookie guard Marcus Thornton checks into a game, scores a point, or makes a good play, the first few notes of "Hold That Tiger" blare throughout the arena - "dah-dah-dah-DAH!" - recognizing Thornton is a former LSU Tiger.
In a recent game against the Atlanta Hawks, Thornton checked in during the final seconds of the first quarter: "dah-dah-dah-DAH!"
The first time Thornton touched the ball, he was posted up on the low block, and he turned and banked in a soft jumper - "dah-dah-dah-DAH!"
Moments later, Thornton drove down the lane, shielded off Hawks center Al Horford, who's seven inches taller than him, and made a layup - "dah-dah-dah-DAH!"
Then came a Thornton 3-pointer - "dah-dah-dah-DAH!" Then a spin move and reverse layup - "dah-dah-dah-DAH!"
A couple of hours and a whole bunch of "dah-dah-dah-DAH!"s later, Thornton had a season-high 21 points and the rejuvenated Hornets had a 96-88 win against the team with the NBA's best record.
One night later, Thornton topped his season-high again, getting 24 points in a last-second loss at Miami, the team that drafted him in the second round and traded him to New Orleans in June.
One month into his NBA career, Thornton has established himself as New Orleans' top offensive player off the bench. In fact, over the last seven games he has been the team's leading scorer (16.0 points per game) - "dah-dah-dah-DAH!"
"I feel if you're a scorer," the Baton Rouge native said matter-of-factly, "you can score on any level."
Thornton certainly scored on the collegiate level, being named Southeastern Conference Player of the Year after averaging 21.1 points as a senior last year.
"Quite frankly, nothing he has done has surprised me," said Tigers coach Trent Johnson, who was on hand to watch Thornton against Atlanta. "In fact, I'm surprised any time he misses a shot. I think Marcus is a very, very quality Basketball player. I think he's going to have a long-standing NBA career if he's able to stay healthy."
Thornton struggled in his last game, getting into early foul trouble and finishing with just four points on 1-for-5 shooting in an overtime victory against Milwaukee on Wednesday. But he had scored in double figures in six straight games before that and figures to be one of the first off the bench during road games against the Kings today and the Lakers on Tuesday.
"I like the fact that he's not afraid to make plays," Hornets coach Jeff Bower said of Thornton, "and he's not afraid to attempt to do things. (I like) his aggressiveness and fearlessness going into the paint and breaking down the defense off the dribble.
"He's very much aware of the need to get out and run the floor. He's got a lot of energy and the confidence you need to have to be successful in this league. I think he sees himself as a guy who wants to make something happen. At this point in his career I think that's a real good thing."
Thornton's 3-point shooting ability is especially useful in Bower's offense, which spreads the floor more than Byron Scott's did. Scott was fired as Hornets coach Nov. 12 after a 3-6 start. New Orleans is 4-3 under Bower and has won four its last five.
"He's been able to extend the floor with deep range, so that helps," Bower said. "It sets up his explosiveness off the dribble, because he is a threat from behind the line. Teams have to honor him on that, which obviously makes it more difficult to cover him."
Thornton began the season as the third shooting guard, behind veterans Morris Peterson and Devin Brown. He was inactive in the first five games as New Orleans struggled to a 2-3 record. Scott then benched Peterson in favor of Brown, who's a better defender than scorer, and began making Thornton active.
"He's a gifted scorer," said Tim Floyd, the former Hornets head coach who returned as Bower's lead assistant after Scott was fired. "He really has a knack of creating space. He's unique in that he has an ability to shoot but also drive and finish, and when he drives he finishes like a bigger guard, much bigger than 6-3."
Darren Collison was thrust into the starting lineup when All-NBA point guard Chris Paul was sidelined indefinitely by a severely sprained left ankle sustained in Bower's and Floyd's first game.
Paul has taken to coaching and talking with the two rookies throughout games and practice. The pair has helped the team remain competitive in Paul's absence.
Hornet at Kings
WHEN: 8 p.m. today
WHERE: ARCO Arena in Sacramento, Calif.
RADIO: WXOK-AM, 1460
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