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Game 17 Preview: Hornets vs. Blazers

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OK...it's Thanksgiving, it's nearly midnight, and we just played the Hornets a couple weeks ago.  So for the official preview I'm going to refer you back to this post.  It's pretty much still applicable.  The Hornets have had a couple confidence-shaking losses since but they've righted the ship with four straight wins now, including a squeaker against Denver last night.

As an added bonus here's half of a Q+A with Rohan from AtTheHive.  You can find the half where he asks questions to me at his site.

Blazersedge:  While 8-5 is not a bad start by any means the Hornets have had some disappointing losses:  Sacramento, Charlotte, even Atlanta and Houston in some ways.  First, what are the main factors when the Hornets struggle?  Second, how is the team's confidence?

AtTheHive:  The Hornets lose primarily due to high allowed field goal percentage. The defensive rebounding has been there, the forced turnovers have been there. But in losses, the Hornets allow much higher than acceptable conversion rates from the field, especially from deep. Two things factor into this- penetration defense and perimeter rotations. I'd spell it out more, but it's a lot easier to explain visually. If you scroll down in this post there's a video I put in there that really captures our two biggest issues. Other than that, the Hornets have begun a disturbing trend of having severe offensive droughts, sometimes several times a game. That's a coaching issue more than anything else.

Confidence-wise, the team got exactly what it needed: a home and away back-to-back versus everyone's favorite opponent, the Oklahoma City Bennetts. The Hornets picked up a win at the Clippers and at the Nuggets after that. So my feeling is that they're in a good place. They need a win against another "real" team (after Denver last night) to prove they're out of the funk though.

Blazersedge:  New Orleans is shooting as well as ever but the offensive production has dropped from last season.  What's going on?

AtTheHive:  The offensive rebounding has taken a huge hit. Tyson Chandler was really the only offensive rebounding force the Hornets had last year, but he did a terrific job of it. This year, he's had some issues with his right ankle, limiting his ability to jump. One of Tyson's biggest strengths as a rebounder is his ability to leap up and tap back rebounds that are out of his reach. Minus that leaping ability, he hasn't been able to do it this year.

Chris Paul has had a slightly higher turnover rate as well. But that's something I chalk up to small sample size more than anything. Give him 20 more games, and he should again be among the league's least turnover prone point guards.

Blazersedge:  I go back and forth about the New Orleans defense.  On the one hand they play effectively and that's all that matters.  On the other hand it seems like there are defensive weak links on that squad.  Then again, Tyson Chandler covers up a world of sins.  How would you rate the Hornets' defense?  You've said they tend to leave perimeter players open.  What are the keys to their defense and how can it be exploited?

AtTheHive:  Mediocre, but improving. Last year, the Hornets' one, giant, monumental, unbelievably awesome, stupendously terrific attribute on defense was the ability to stay away from fouls. They simply did not foul anyone, anywhere, any time. This year, that hasn't been the case. With Tyson Chandler missing a few games, foul prone guys like Hilton Armstrong have been forced into action. Again, this is something I expect will even out over time. But for now, that big advantage simply isn't there, and the D is significantly worse off for it.

The best way to exploit the defense is to pass. Pass the ball around the perimeter, toss it in the paint, and bring it back out, whatever. Ball movement drives the Hornets crazy because Byron Scott loves to rotate his defenders around a ton. Zip a few crisp passes around the three point line, and chances are you'll find a crazy mismatch like Aldridge on Paul or Roy on Chandler.

In general I think this game is winnable, though it certainly won't be easy.  The Blazers historically don't mess around with revenge games, even against superior opponents.  Plus New Orleans has been playing well but not like world-beaters.  It's also been a while since they've lost.  Throw in Greg Oden pounding on Chandler and the Blazers' new-found ability to ace out opponent scorers and you find at least a ghost of a chance.  Make no mistake, New Orleans is the better team.  This just feels like a night where the better team might not win.

Personally I'd love to get this win.  And I mean "love" in a stable, secure way.  It's not like playing the L*kers where you'd do or sacrifice anything to get the object of your desire.  That's a power imbalance right there.  You want it too badly...more than could ever be returned.  You've surrendered your power and become a doormat.   Those kind of relationships never last and seldom lead to anything good.  But this would be the kind of win you could take home to momma...a win that shows you might be on the way to better things.  It's not The One, of course.  It's way too early to be thinking about that yet.  But wins like this are a good sign that you could be on that road. 

Should be a great game.

--Dave (blazersub@yahoo.com)

P.S.  Don't forget to enter the Jersey Contest here