The Hornets beat the Blazers

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Published: November 15, 2008

Before we dive into bullet mode, let me say that the win over the Blazers tonight doesn’t do much to wash away the bad taste left by the loss to the Lakers on Wednesday. I’ll repeat the comment I left on Ryan’s recap of that game:

The Lakers are running a much more sophisticated offense than we are. They move the ball, cut and space real well. They rarely waste a dribble, every movement has a purpose. Meanwhile, we have Chris Paul probing the defense hoping to get someone out of position and exploit the mistake. Or, we throw it into West and let him try and back down his man or beat him off the dribble, except against the Lakers he’s going 1-on-3 because their help D is so good. So basically, the Lakers are tough to stop because they run an efficient, balanced offense. Kobe doesn’t need to score 30 points for them to win. They get other guys layups and wide open jumpers. But our offense relies on our stars having big games. If West is off or crowded, we’re screwed. CP does his thing regardless, but if we’re not hitting the deep looks that he creates, we’re screwed.

Of course there’s more to it than that, with depth being a big factor, too, but I think it mostly comes down to the Lakers playing a more sophisticated brand of basketball. Phil Jackson has put together a well-oiled machine. And the most depressing thing is, I’m not sure what we can do to get to that level and compete with them this season. Unless something drastic happens, there’s no way I can see us beating them in a 7-game series.

It’s mid-November and I’m pretty sure I already know how the season will end.

Like I said, beating the Blazers tonight doesn’t do much to make me feel better. We didn’t really do anything against Portland that we didn’t do against L.A. David West was still finding three defenders between him and the basket. Chris Paul still had to get in the lane and go all Tazmanian Devil to open up a shot for himself or a teammate. Beyond that, we got some scores from second chances or from isolation plays. That was about it. To echo Roc217 in the comments of the game thread, where is the Princeton offense that Byron Scott preaches? I see some picks on the low blocks every now and then or the wings screening and switching on the baseline, but that seems to be about as intricate as the offense gets.

2:39 left in the fourth quarter tonight, out of a timeout we lead it 77-76 after Greg Oden drops a pair of free throws. This is how we finish the game offensively:

  • First trip, West is isolated against LaMarcus Aldridge on the left block, help on his back. West turns and makes a move across the lane, throws up a hook in traffic which is blocked by Oden.
  • Next trip, Chris Paul and Tyson Chandler run the pick and roll out high. Oden fouls CP on the switch. No penalty, we inbound, run that same pick and roll again. Paul goes across the lane this time, draws help D and finds Posey open on the wing for three. Bottom.
  • Coming back after West blocks Roy, we get the same pick and roll play again between CP and TC, isolated on the right side of the floor. Oden again fouls Paul off the switch, trying to block his path to the basket. Free throws this time.
  • 42 seconds left, Roy hits a triple to cut our lead to three. The Blazers go full court press. Peja gets the ball up the floor with Rudy Fernandez shadowing. Eventually we get the ball in Paul’s hands, run that same play with Tyson, which results in CP missing a runner in the lane.

Beyond that we didn’t get another real offensive trip because Portland were forced to foul. The point is that we were relying on our big guns (West and Paul) to make something happen down the stretch and pull out the win. I don’t want to point the finger at Coach Scott here, but surely he can do better than that. What did he tell our guys in that timeout? “Hey, let’s get the ball to West inside and see what happens. Failing that, I want Tyson to screen for CP up top and see if anything comes of it.”

This all ties into David West’s struggles, too. He’s been dogging it so far this season, mostly because he’s trying to get his buckets the same way he did last year except now the opposition is sending multiple defenders to stop him. Those same old tricks won’t work. We need to find a way to isolate him completely on the block, or start getting him more open 17-footers, or have him take the feed at the free throw line and work from there. Or whatever. It just can’t be the same old same old. Teams are wise to it and they refuse to be burned the same way.

I realize this all sounds very pessimistic, it’s early in the season, there’s plenty of time to improve. I hear all that, and I know we’ll probably end up winning 50+ games this season. We have enough talent to do that. It’s just beyond the regular season that worries me. When it gets down to it, we’ve got to beat a team like the Lakers/Celtics/Pistons in a seven game series, and these first two weeks of the season have led me to believe that we’re not capable of doing so.

Anyways, let’s move on to some game notes. I’ll try real hard to keep them on the happy-feel-good-positive side:

  • Our bench didn’t look half bad tonight. Portland’s a deep team, but our reserves played pretty well against them. I liked that unit we rolled with for a bit in the fourth, consisting of Devin Brown, Rasual Butler, James Posey, Julian Wright and Hilton Armstrong. Lots of length. JuJu was playing the 4-spot, manning on Channing.
  • Of course Mike James was left on the bench, with Devin Brown getting all the minutes at back-up point. Brown did a nice job. He didn’t try to force anything, for the most part taking the lanes and shots that presented themselves, and he was pretty active on the glass, finishing with six boards (2 offensive, including a nice tip in against Oden). He didn’t shoot well (2-7 FGs) and he didn’t pick up any assists, but he was a lot more predictable out there than James, and that’s a very good thing if you ask me.
  • Byron was apparently so pleased with Devin that he even left him in there with Chris Paul for a stretch in the fourth quarter. Mike, you might as well get comfortable on the bench. You might be there for a while.
  • Hey look, there’s Peja shooting a technical free throw. The world makes sense again.
  • It’s easy to like a lot of the Portland guys. Brandon Roy is a gamer, no doubt. I thought Mo Pete and Posey did a solid job containing him overall, but he was cold-blooded down the stretch. LaMarcus Aldridge was automatic from 15 feet, and impressed going right at West a few times. Sergio Rodriguez is the back-up point guard I crave for the Hornets. He gave the Blazers great minutes tonight. And then Rudy Fernandez is also real nice. Nothing shakey about his game. My only criticism is that he complains too much to the officials. You know, much like David West.
  • Portland threw the full court press at us several times tonight, and methinks we’ve been seeing that a lot more against the Hornets this season. That might be on account of our thin bench. My theory: Opposing coaches figure that our guys will tire quickly when pressed, and then Byron’s either forced to play shoddy reserves for extended minutes or risk having his starters winded in the fourth quarter. Win-win for the opposition. Well, as long as their own bench runs deep.

Alright, that’s all I’ve got. Hornets are back at it tomorrow night in Houston. Myself and a few buddies are making the trip West to catch the game at the Toyota Center. Should be an adventure full of awesomeness and wonderfulment. My plan is to post regular updates on all the road trip mayhem on Twitter, so follow me there if you’re into the whole stalking thing.

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