Back in the saddle again after a one-day break!
A Look at the Hornets
I've got to be honest with you. I love playing the New Orleans Hornets for a number of reasons. It's a matchup of good, young teams. Assuming all goes well you're going to see these teams battle in the West over multiple seasons. But they're good without the hype, expectations, stress, and attitude issues that come along with L.A. or Boston. Playing against the latter two teams is like serving dinner for 500. It's such a flurry and a show that you don't really get to enjoy it until it's over. Playing the Hornets is like sitting down to a fantastic meal with a few friends. The food is every bit as good but the experience is satisfying as well.
I also love the Hornets because they're just an old-school, fundamentally sound, pleasing basketball team. They don't depend on getting a shot up every ten seconds. They don't ignore defense. They aren't possession-grinding thugs either. Everyone on the court can score from their own area. They work the ball around until they get the right shot but Chris Paul can still bake your cookies and stuff them down your throat if they need a spark. They make each other better on defense than any of them are individually. They hold you to one possession. They're just classic. And, by the way, they're winning too, belying the idea that you have to reinvent the wheel in order to succeed in this league. It's round, it's mounted on an axle, we're good to go.
There are a few things you won't find the Hornets doing much. They don't offensive rebound. They don't turn the ball over. They don't block shots. They don't draw many fouls but they don't miss the foul shots they do get. Neither do they miss from the three-point arc. They don't create many extra possession but they do a great job of maximizing the possessions they get.
The Hornets' offense revolves around Chris Paul, of course, but David West continues his excellent season, averaging 19.5 points and 7.2 rebounds. He's a Lamarcus Aldridge-like scorer with post and face-up moves and a good mid-range game. Peja Stojakovic, recently returned from yet another back injury, is posting a couple of amazing stats: 6.2 threes attempted per game and 41.2% shooting from beyond the arc. He keeps everybody honest. Tyson Chandler roams the paint on both ends but is mostly known for his defense and rebounding intensity. After that they field veterans like James Posey, Rasual Butler, Morris Peterson...you won't be surprising this team or throwing them curves they haven't seen before.
Oh, and in case I forgot to mention it, Paul is at 19.9 points, 11.5 assists, 5.4 rebounds, 2.9 steals, 49.5% shooting, 36.5% from the three-point line, and 88% shooting from the foul line. Amazing.
Keys to the Game
1. Basically the only way the Hornets lose is by scoring in the 80's. That's entirely possible because of their low rate of possessions, but to have a chance you have to keep those possessions low. The last couple of weeks the Blazers have had a bad habit of allowing offensive rebounds to teams who don't get many. Before that the Blazers had a bad habit of allowing teams that never run to get out free and easy in transition. Neither can happen tonight. One defended shot is the mantra for the evening.
2. The place to attack the Hornets is at those middle positions. Go after Stojakovic, Peterson, even West. You have to take them off the dribble, make them work, and punish them. This will be an important game for Lamarcus Aldridge, Travis Outlaw, and possibly Rudy Fernandez.
3. The best way to deal with a team that likes to move people and the ball is to make that hard. The Blazers need to physically punish cutters as they try to run through screens.
4. You cannot leave the New Orleans three-point shooters...ANY of them. Every darn one of them who shoots any threes at all makes them at an alarming clip. You should not need extra help on dribble penetration tonight. If you have to double on West you had better recover quickly but it's better to depend on Lamarcus to deal with him. Only unimpeded transition hoops will be a worse sign than open threes tonight.
5. The Hornets never turn the ball over. The Blazers better not either.
The standard for the next three games would be one win. That would put us 2-2 for this four-game stretch against elite teams. We have some cushion, but it would be wonderful to lock up that .500 record tonight. That takes all the pressure off of the L.A. and Detroit games.
Check out the New Orleans perspective at At the Hive.
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