Let’s Break a Couple Seals and Ground the Rockets

Before we get to the game, I wanted to draw your attention to this quote from the Times-Picayune after the Bulls game:

Stojakovic said before Saturday’s game that he has sharp pain extending from his lower back to his legs.

I ain’t a doctor, but that description is consistent with either sciatica or a slipped/herniated disk in the back.  You may or not remember that two years ago, Peja missed most of a season with a herniated disk that required surgery.  That injury also started with reports he had back spasms, but he was kept out of game after game until finally Peja decided to go under the knife.  If it’s not a disk problem, it’s probably sciatica, and they may just be able to treat it with anti-inflammatories, but you’d think there would already be an effect if that was going to help.  That makes me pessimistic.

There is no question this hurts.  The Hornets are built on the idea of Paul or West putting pressure on the defense in the paint, and then kicking the ball out to a group of shooters.  Peja stretches the floor simply by stepping onto the court – and his defense has always better than what his reputation suggests. 

Having Julian’s less than stellar perimeter threat on the floor has allowed opposing teams to help more in the paint, which has limited Paul’s drives somewhat, and West’s post-ups quite a bit.  Here’s to hoping my worries are unfounded, and that he comes back soon.

Oh – and totally useless points to anyone who got the reference to NASA and the failures their seals keep having.

Matchup: Rockets(43-25) @ Hornets(41-24)

Off Efficiency: Rockets 104.9(17th), Hornets 107.0(9th)
Def Efficiency: Rockets 101.5(4th), Hornets 103.6(9th)

Big game here, and both teams come in playing equally well over the last couple weeks.  The loss column is the most important column to keep an eye on, since that is an accurate reflection of games that can’t be retrieved by a push by the team.  You’ll notice above the the Rockets only have one more loss than the Hornets, so a loss tonight wipes out the tiny advantage New Orleans is carrying in the Great Western Seed Hunt that is sweeping the NBA nation.

As for seeding tie-breakers, the Hornets have a little bit of a lead.  The two teams have split the season series so far, but the Hornets have a better in-division record.  Winning tonight will help tremendously in making sure the Hornets get a higher seed than the Rockets in the playoffs.  Gotta get that home-court advantage.


Rockets: Tracy McGrady kindly quit on the Rockets, improving them immediately.
Hornets: Peja, as noted above.

Positional Analysis

PG: Chris Paul v Aaron Brooks
Advantage: Hornets
The Rockets traded Rafer Alston at the deadline and awarded the starting spot to speedster Aaron Brooks.  Brooks is a classic undersized shooting guard with good enough ball-handling to masquerade as a point guard.  He’s an improvement over Alston, who shot too much and hit too little, but his shooting is only somewhat better.  Where he does improve things is his willingness to drive, and quick-footed, if not entirely clever, defense.  He’ll be able to stay with Paul on the court, and probably blow by him several times.  Of course, he won’t be able to keep up with Paul’s production.

SG: Shane Battier v Rasual Butler
Advantage: Even
This is a battle of two efficient shooters who don’t make a lot of mistakes and play solid defense.  Battier and Artest are interchangeable on the wings, and both are billed as perimeter stoppers, though Battier is the better of the two defensively.  Both can be physical, but Artest relies mostly on his strength and willingness to use it, while Battier relies on close, harassing defense an anticipation to close down opposing players.  I think Battier will get Butler because his defensive style does seem to match Butler’s offense better than Artests.  Expect Butler to get few clean looks from the perimeter, though Battier driving him off the three point line will probably free him for that two-dribble pull-up jumper that he’s been perfecting all year.  He’ll need to knock it down for us to be successful.  If he’s got his mojo going from mid-range, as he has the past couple weeks, this position shifts to the Hornets.

SF: Ron Artest v Julian Wright
Advantage: Houston
If Artest posts Julian, it’s going to be ugly.  Fortunately, Artest prefers to try to take over games offensively by jacking up stupid long range shots.  Artest’s three-point percentage has been rising all year, but the few free throws he earns because he stays on the perimeter makes him less than efficient.  Julian should have no trouble chasing him around, and hopefully will be able to stick the shots he’s given and not pass them by in favor of drives.  Artest is a master of bumping a player and then stripping them of the ball, and Julian’s handle is shaky enough as it is.

PF: Luis Scola v David West
Advantage: Hornets
Scola is one of those high energy players who flails around like crazy, never gives easy post position, and generally irritates the crap out of West.  Fortunately, West seems to like punishing Scola for his antics, and generally gets the better of the Argentinian Forward.  Artest may take a turn on West, which will force Fluffy into taking more of his jumpers, so I hope they are falling.

C: Yao Ming v Tyson Chandler
Advantage: Houston
Tyson defends Yao alright – more by stopping him from getting lots of shots than by stopping him from taking quality shots.  However, once Yao gets his position and makes a move to shoot, it’s all over, Tyson isn’t stopping him.  Tyson should be able to out-rebound Yao pretty easily, and he’ll need to because the Rocket’s tight defense is going to produce a lot of missed shots and rebounds.  Also – expect a couple nice alley-oops, Yao isn’t the fastest guy around at defending those.

Advantage: Houston
Carl Landry, Kyle Lowry, Von Wafer, Brent Barry and Chuck Hayes make up the Rocket’s primary bench at this point.  Landry is a great, if undersized, back up big man, who plays with lots of energy and draws a good number of fouls while finishing well at the rim.  He’s also very skilled at crashing the offensive boards.  Lowry is a tough-nosed point guard who can’t shoot from deep, but has found his niche on this team as a hard-driving scoring guard.  Wafer is a nice solid guard off the bench, Barry spreads the floor and mini-tank Chuck Hayes comes into foul the hell out of people, defend them tough, and grab a few rebounds.  This is a bench to be proud of.  The Hornets bench is not.

Enjoy the game.

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