Basketball: Hornet keen to make a mark

By Daniel Gilhooly

It's a familiar scenario but a completely new role for New Zealand veteran Sean Marks as he suits up for the United States National Basketball Association playoffs.

After enjoying the best regular season in his nine years of NBA action - he averaged 14 minutes a game - the 33-year-old Aucklander is ready to make his most significant playoff contribution with the New Orleans Hornets.

A slow end to the season saw the Hornets finish with a 49-33 record, ranking them seventh in the Western Conference and earning a first round playoff showdown with the second-ranked Denver Nuggets (54-28).

The opening games of their best-of-seven series are in Denver on Monday and Thursday (NZ time).

New Orleans coach Byron Scott has indicated Marks can expect some decent minutes on the court, adding the icing to a season where the former Tall Black has contributed in 60 of 82 games.

His only previous playoff experience came via three minutes of court time for the Phoenix Suns against the San Antonio Spurs last year.

He was part of the championship-winning Spurs team of 2004-05 but never got on court in the playoffs.

"It's unchartered waters for me," Marks said. "Certainly in the past [my role] has been a practice player and basically a cheerleader, supporting the guys from the bench.

"This year I have to be ready, it'll depend on the match-ups. I don't know how much I'll play ... but I'll have to bring some energy there.

"Denver are stacked in my position [forward/centre] and we've got our hands full with keeping those guys off the offensive glass."

Momentum is on the side of the Nuggets following a strong second half of the season, but that doesn't faze Marks, who said centre Tyson Chandler's recent return from injury was a major boost.

The clash of the star point guards - the Hornets' Chris Paul against Denver's Chauncey Billups - is likely to be decisive.

"Hopefully we're clicking and we're all healthy now which is great and we're looking forward to the playoffs," Marks said.

"The team's been banged up pretty much all year and we've had our ups and downs but I've got to contribute out there so that's been great."

The 2.08m Marks has posted career-highs in most statistical categories this season.

His previous record for appearances was 25 with the Spurs in 2005-06, while this year's 838 minutes was more than double the next best, with the Miami Heat in 2001-02.

That season he scored 96 points, a tally that has been exactly doubled with this year's 192.

Marks also recorded 187 rebounds - 62 offensive and 125 defensive - 33 blocks, 14 assists and seven steals.

On Tuesday, Marks posted his third double-digit points total of the season with 10 points and two rebounds in 21 minutes during an 86-66 road loss to the Houston Rockets.

He also pulled down a season-high nine rebounds in 19 minutes during the 111-103 loss to the Golden State Warriors on April 4.

- NZPA

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