A Look at the Hornets
The Hornets limp into town owners of an 18-25 record but they've played just a shade below .500 for the month of January...paradoxically as many of their main guns have been injured. Chief among these is Chris Paul, who will still not be ready to play tonight. But don't get all excited just yet. They have this one guy at point guard named Devin Brown, a journeyman with the Nuggets, Spurs, and Jazz before New Orleans picked him up. He's 6'5", 220 lbs, and he's scored in double figures in 16 of the 19 games he's appeared in. In his last five games he's averaging 15 points and 5 assists. Then they've got veteran Bobby Jackson, also recovered from injury. In the last five games he's also averaged 15 points and 5 assists (including dropping 21 on Utah in their last game). That means between the two of them the Hornet point guards are tallying 30 points and 10 assists lately. Chris Paul's per-48 averages this year are 26 and 6. I'm not saying that they're as good without Paul, but I am saying you better not go to sleep against those big, experienced guards. And by the way those two could also make Jarrett Jack's life tough, and when JJ doesn't perform well the Blazers don't perform well.
Big ol' Tyson Chandler has continued to smoke the opposition on the boards. This guy is an AMAZING offensive rebounder and not a bad defender either. Desmond Mason has accepted some of the scoring burden left by Paul and Stojakovic (also out) and is averaging more than 16 points and 6 rebounds in his last five games including 24 against Sacramento and 20 against Utah. High-scoring forward David West suffered an ankle injury a couple of games ago against the Kings and is gimpy, but playing. We better hope his treatment isn't working because before the injury he was pasting opponents for 26 + 12 and 23 + 11. Veteran Rasual Butler seems to go off every second or third game and he's had two poor ones, so this may be his night.
I guess the basic idea is that we better come to play tonight, or the Hornets' emergency relief squad will make a house call and leave with a "W" while we're still wondering when Paul is going to show up.
Like us the Hornets are used to playing in the 80's and low 90's. They are not a bad defensive team and when they put their mind to it they're pretty good at controlling the boards. Their Achilles Heel is their shooting. Outside of Chandler they're downright horrible (or at least the ones they have healthy right now are). They won't turn down easy buckets if we fall asleep, but basically they'll want a slow, ugly, bruising, grind-it-out affair.
Things I'd like to see:
- I don't think we'll be able to out-slow or out-muscle the Hornets tonight, so we might have to out-pretty them. If our guards get some open short-range jumpers off penetration, or can dish to shooters for a nice, open, long-range shot or two, it will stretch the Hornet defense enough to allow Zach to work. New Orleans will probably eat up any straight post game we try and throw at them, but with some ball movement followed by good shooting we might just frustrate them.
- Pretty-ball doesn't mean that we can't poke at the rock, nor that we shouldn't get a knee burn or two. If both teams play their best this game will probably be decided by who picks up the most loose balls.
- Keeping them off of the offensive board will be a major challenge, and a necessary one. I don't necessarily foresee us winning the overall rebounding battle but we need to get a body on someone when one of their shots goes up. Otherwise a lot of their buckets will be easy put-backs where their poor shooting percentage doesn't come into play.
- Being slighter of build might make us just a wee bit quicker. I wouldn't mind seeing a little running tonight. If we score 100 we should be able to win. It may be Sergio's kind of night that way. I know he won't stop Brown and Jackson on the other end but then again Brown only shoots 40% and Jackson 43% so maybe you don't mind them putting the ball up a little. Lamarcus could also get some burn if they're not hammering us on the boards and if he can stay out of foul trouble.
- Brown, Butler, West, and back-up point guard Jannero Pargo can all shoot the three pretty well, so we'll want to keep alert on the perimeter. We do not need to double-team inside much on this team. West can score but even at his best he's not a guy who can carry his team and he's coming off that injury and is likely to be slowed. If everybody stays home on their own man we should be OK. Oh...would it be too much to ask that we don't switch on EVERY pick, leaving guys like Przybilla out at the three-point line covering point guards?
- Once, just once, can the starting unit come out with some energy and some smart offense instead of this jog-down-the-court-and-settle-for-jumpers crap we see for the first four minutes of every game? They usually get rolling by the middle of the first or after the bench unit has played, but one of the best ways to beat New Orleans would be to jump out on them early and make them think it's not their night. I've thought this for, like, a month now and I am still waiting...