Hornets – Spurs Series Preview

Published: May 1, 2008

There's so much to address here, I had a hard time getting started.  In the end, I did my usual thing and turned to the numbers to get rolling.

Like the Mavs, the Hornets and the Spurs were pretty similar teams – there must be something in the water in the Southwest Division.  The Spurs play a slightly slower pace game, rebound overall at the same rate, assist at the same rate, turnover the ball slightly more, shoot slightly worse, take slightly more free throws, and score 1.22 points per shot, which is exactly how many points the Hornets get per shot. Freaky.

There is an illusion here, however.  When looking at pure shooting percentages and the points per shot, it seems like the Spurs will match the Hornets on the offensive end, leaving the outcome of the series to the defensive end, where the Spurs, as always, excel.

It's not the case, however.  The Spurs offense is worse than the Hornets this year, mostly due to two primary reasons: Their perimeter shooters are not very reliable, and their defensive discipline is limiting them on offense.  What do I mean by the latter?  Refusing to gamble at all for steals, the Spurs were the third worst team in the league at generating turnovers this season, forcing a measly 12.1 turnovers per contest.  They were also the fourth worst offensive rebounding team in the league, snaring only 23.4% of available rebounds as they worried more about getting back on defense than crashing the offensive board. 

Without the easy baskets generated by offensive rebounds and turnovers, the Spurs managed only the 13th best offensive efficiency this season, scoring 104.7 points per 100 posessions.  Their offensive weakness has continued in the post-season as they actually declined on the offensive end against the Suns, scoring 103.6 points per 100 posessions despite playing a team that allowed a mediocre 105 per 100 all year.  With the Hornets being clearly better defenders than Phoenix, that does not bode well for the Spurs ability to score.  Just not much reason to worry about the Spurs offense.

The other end of the court, however, does need to be worried about.  The Spurs produced the third best defensive efficiency in the league this season, allowing a measly 99.5 points per 100 posessions.  They were also by far the best defensive rebounding team in the league, sucking in 77.1% of available defensive boards.  That tight Spurs defense was fully on display against the Suns this post-season.  Pheonix came into that series with the best offensive efficiency in the league in, scoring 111.2 points per 100 posessions.  They came out of the series sporting a dismal playoff offensive efficiency mark of only 101.6.  The Spurs simply crushed them. 

That sets up an interesting clash between the Hornets and Spurs, because the Hornets just crushed the 7th best defense in the league, pouring 115 points per 100 posessions on a team that all season long only allowed 103.  Something is going to give for one of these teams.

Some things to look for in the series:

1)Duncan should look impressive as usual.
This season, the Hornets pretty much let Timmy do his thing.  He shot well in every game, averaged 22 and 10 with 3 assists and 2 blocks in 35 minutes.  In all four games, Byron essentially stuck Tyson on Duncan and left him there, only throwing rare doubles at the Spurs big man.  I'm expecting Byron to do that again and only switch up if it's becoming too painful to allow.

2) The Hornets will play tight perimeter defense.
Not doubling Timmy, the Hornets have been able to stay home on the other Spurs.  As a result, in the regular season they shot a miserable 20% from three.  I doubt we can count on that bad of shooting again, but it clearly had an effect.

3) The Spurs will whine like you won't believe.
The Spurs are whiney as it is – half of them complain as much as Tyson Chandler does – but the Hornets are the best team in the league at not fouling.  During the regular season, the Spurs managed only 16 free throws per game against the Hornets, which is a dismal number.  Expect the same, and expect at least a half-dozen Tim Duncan Disbelieving stares and a bunch of memories of Manu Ginobili having to scramble off the floor and get back on defense after having falling down after being "fouled" and not getting the call.

4) CP3 v Bruce "Lee" Bowen
Paul's gotten the better of Bowen twice this season.  I won't go so far as to say Paul is dirty, but I will whole-heartedly support the idea that he can be one mean little bastard.  At six feet, Paul understands if he doesn't protect himself, he's going to get smacked around – something Nash never figured out against Bowen and the Spurs.  How has he gotten Bowen off of him?  By smacking him in the face "unintentionally" in one game, and by refusing to lie down when Bruce was straddling him, and delivering some nice forearm blows in the process – getting Bruce to retaliate and be suspended.  Paul just isn't going to take it from him.

5) We're facing another thin bench.
Part of the reason the Mavs fell apart was because the team was built to rely on 4 players for most of its offense – and one of those was Stackhouse.(hee hee)  The Hornets, with Bonzi, Pargo and Julian Wright, have 8 legitimate players who can impact a game offensively and defensively.  The Spurs?  They mimic the Mavericks.  We know Duncan, Ginobili, Parker and Finley will get their points.  But take the second unit:  Udoka? Oberto?  Injured Brent Barry?  The Remains of Robert Horry?  Mini-mouse Stoudamire?  Anyone scared?  Anyone?  Once again, we have an advantage with our second unit.  Amazing, eh?

I'm exceedingly optimistic about this series.  Should be exciting, though.  Let me know in the comments what worries you the most about the coming battle.

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