Chris Paul considered Sunday night's game against the Utah Jazz pivotal. "Because it's at home, coming off a loss against Chicago,” Paul said before the game. "We definitely have to come out focused tonight. If we win tonight, that'll be a huge win for us.” Paul stopped short of explaining the ramifications of a loss, but they became clear after the Jazz's 108-94 victory. The Hornets (28-32) have dropped their first two games in March and are dangerously close to following last year's path that didn't wind toward the postseason. That path led the Hornets to a disappointing 3-11 record in March. The Hornets begin a tough three-game road trip Tuesday against the Denver Nuggets, followed by back-to-back games against the Phoenix Suns and Jazz. "We're going to find out what we're made of,” Hornets coach Byron Scott said of this week's trip. "We're going to find out what type of heart and what type of character we have.” What we're going to find out is if this team can relocate the defensive prowess that made them so effective early in the season, even when the absence of injured key players stalled the team's offense effectiveness. In what's become a recurring theme over the past two weeks, a guard, this time Utah's Deron Williams, sliced through the Hornets on his way to 20 points and six assists. A forward, this time All-Star Carlos Boozer, bulled his way to 17 points and 12 rebounds. And a shooter, this time big man Mehmet Okur, torched the home team for a game-high 28 points and nine rebounds. The Hornets allowed the Jazz to shoot 48.6 percent, the sixth straight game an opponent has hit 48 percent or more from the field against them. The Hornets also allowed 100 points or more for the fifth time in seven games. They gave up 97 points in the two games they didn't allow 100 points during that span. The Hornets allowed 100 points or more only eight times in both November and December. "We can't let people shoot 50 percent and expect to win,” said center Tyson Chandler, who finished with a season-high 20 points and 19 rebounds. "After the All-Star break we have let too many teams shoot 50 percent on us. "We hang our hat, supposedly, on defense. But tonight, we let them shoot 48 percent and go to the (free-throw) line 41 times. You aren't going to win too many games in this league doing that. We are having too many breakdowns defensively.” The Hornets had so many Sunday that they lost their final lead with 5:06 remaining in the second quarter. Believe it or not, the Hornets actually led by as many as 10, and held a four-point advantage after the first quarter. But the Jazz outscored them in every period from there, breaking the game open with a 29-18 second quarter. You pretty much knew it was over when the Hornets spoiled a solid first quarter and trailed by seven at halftime, as they are just 4-23 when down at the break. "We couldn't figure them out on the offensive end,” said Bobby Jackson. "We didn't recognize what they were doing the whole game. We just have to find each other and continue to talk and work on the defensive end to turn this around.” But how? "It's an individual thing, and it's a team thing,” Scott said. "Individually, you have to come out and say I'm going to shut down my man. But if I get beat, I got to believe and trust that my teammates are going to be there to help me out. And we haven't done that lately.” At least not in the past six games.
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The Hornets' Tyson Chandler dunks for two of his 20 points against the Jazz on Sunday. Chandler also had 19 rebounds. By John Clanton, The Oklahoman