Game 6 Preview: Hornets vs. Blazers

A Look at the Hornets

You all know Chris Paul, right?  Everybody who was hoping for the old Sophomore Slump from him will have to wait a while.  Like, maybe forever.  In five games this year he's averaging 20.8 points and an amazing 10.6 assists (4 boards, 1.6 steals, 52% shooting, and a 3-to-1 assist to turnover ratio).  Whatcha gonna do, brother, when CP runs wild on you?  Well, half of your attention will need to go to the "Quiet Hornet", 6'9" 240 lb power forward David West.  He's a good offensive player from inside and mid-range and one of the better offensive rebounders in the league.  Like Paul he's shooting 52% and putting up around 20 a game.

Beyond their two main players, the Hornets have a curious (and new) cast of characters.  Peja Stojakovic provides shooting, though as his career progresses he's becoming more and more of a 3-point specialist and less of the near-superstar he used to be.  He's only shooting 35% from the floor to start this season.  Desmond Mason and Bobby Jackson supply veteran athleticism.  Young bull (and ex-Bull) Tyson Chandler is their other big-minute player.  He's still not an offensive threat and has trouble guarding both quicker and bigger guys but he's grabbing 12 rebounds a game, for what it's worth.

The Hornets do three things very well.  First they make you miss your shot.  Then they rebound it.  Then whenever they miss their own shots, they rebound those too.  (Not fair, is it?)  Despite some chinks in the armor at certain positions, they're a pretty good defensive team.  They depend on their top 3 scorers to put enough synthetic-composite material through twine to make up for the dearth of offensive prowess that plagues the supporting cast.  The team's built to be solid, not fancy.  They're unlikely to blow you out, but they're even more unlikely to break down themselves.  So far this season that's working for them.

Things I'd like to see:

  1.  Playing the Hornets right now is all about the individual matchups.  It starts with Chris Paul.  You have to pick your poison and given the choice, I'd rather let CP3 be a scorer than a passer.  He'll drop 25 on you easy, but 80% of his team can't score unless he helps them.  Nobody else is really a passer either, so if you don't let Paul make free with the dishes, they're going to be attacking you 1-on-1 all night.  That'll not only make it easier on your defense, it will help your rebounding.  I'm not looking for Jarrett Jack to shut him down as much as keep his hands busy in the passing lanes.  Also Paul attempts very few 3-pointers.  If you are going after his scoring, force him outside.  Don't let him drive past you.  That said, if JJ gets in foul trouble early, Roy's not playing, and we have to bring Dickau or Dixon to guard CP3, say goodnight.
  2.  The second part of the plan would be to put a body on Tyson Chandler and David West on the boards...especially when they're going for offensive boards.  The Hornets absolutely live on the reset and that's how these guys do a lot of their damage.  This will be a tricky balance.  I'm thinking we'll want to play some zone defense to keep them outside but it's harder to match-up with your blocking-out assignments from a zone than it is man-to-man.  If you do not let the Hornets have multiple attempts per trip, you have a very good chance of hanging with them.
  3.  Beyond those items, your defensive scheme should be relatively simple tonight:  don't let Peja shoot from 3 and make everybody else do so.  One of the Hornets' strengths is getting the people to take shots in their comfort zone.  If you can disrupt that I can almost guarantee they'll shoot a low percentage.  With at least two players out of every five in any combination they put out there being relatively poor on offense, you should be able to give some help.
  4.  This is a game where you can use selective fouls to your advantage.  As a whole the team shoots a mediocre percentage from the line.  Chandler, in particular, should never get an easy shot.  Just hack him and let him make his 2 the hard way.
  5.  They have no shot blockers to speak of, David West is a relatively weak defender, and Chandler has trouble if you bang him around or make him move too much.  This should be a game for Zach to go to town and also a game for the smalls to drive deep.  If you get to the cup you won't be stopped.  It's not like Stojakovic or an aging Bobby Jackson are going to stop you from driving either.
  6.  All of their best players will turn it over.  Take advantage where you can.  Easy buckets can't be rebounded!
Normally you'd say the Hornets have the best player on the court, which is usually an advantage.  But the way Zach has been playing you begin to wonder if he isn't the best player out there right now.  And Zach has always feasted on individual matchups in which he has the advantage.  As long as he's willing to get rid of the ball in a timely fashion when doubled, I'd bet that he'd be able to exploit the Hornet frontcourt just as well as, if not better than, Paul exploits the Blazer backcourt.  If Zach brings it and if we don't get totally annihilated on the boards, we just may have a chance tonight.

--Dave (blazersub@yahoo.com)

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