Hornets vs. Nuggets: Thursday News Wrap

Just like a year ago, we’re going to try put together a comprehensive listing of all the important news stories every day during the Hornets playoff run. Each post should be a good one-stop shop to find out all that’s being said and reported about the Hornets and their opponents. While we’re doing this daily, we’ll still keep our News section updated as usual, but the Lagniappe section may die down a little. You can follow us on Twitter (here and here) and/or subscribe to our RSS feeds to make sure you don’t miss a beat.

Instead of one big post each afternoon this year, we’ll post whatever we’ve got  each morning, then tack on a few updates at around lunch time.

If you come across something good that we miss in these news wraps, please send it along via our contact page.

Without further ado…

A.M. Updates:

At The Hive:

For the first time in a long while, it’s good to be a Hornets fan. I don’t mean that sarcastically, even in the slightest.

I mean, think about it. [Wednesday] was perfect in so many ways. Tyson Chandler played a terrific, uninjured first half, throwing down a few lobs, and playing high quality defense on Tim Duncan. The Hornets proved that they could easily match up with the Spurs, tossing away a win on the road via the foul line (where they’ve routinely dominated, thus rendering it moot as a concern). The Mavericks’ win and the Hornets’ loss ensures that New Orleans will face Denver in the first round. There will be much more analysis on that in the near future, but suffice it to say that Denver is easily the best matchup among Houston, Denver, and Portland. If we were to advance, we’d face off against San Antonio (rematch of last year, minus Ginobili) or Dallas (enough said). 

Tyson looks healthy, the bracket looks beautiful, the Hornets lost a game they “won.” Good day.

Watching Hornets-Spurs last night, Pounding The Rock noticed something peculiar:

[Chris] Paul did not attempt a shot in overtime.

Chris Tomasson of the INDenver Times recalls a March 3 game between the Nuggets and Spurs:

That was the night Spurs coach Gregg Popovich rested most of his top players against the Nuggets at the Pepsi Center. Playing the second game of a back-to-back situation after winning the previous night at Golden State, Popovich didn’t use Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili or Michael Finley. Although Ginobili had gotten hurt the night before, Popovich gave no concrete reason for resting the others.

The Spurs J.V. team battled well. But they fell 104-96 to assure that Denver won the season series 2-1.

Well, guess what? The Spurs and the Nuggets both finished the season 54-28, with Denver, due to the tiebreaker, getting the No. 2 seed in the West and San Antonio settling for No. 3.

Had Popovich used his top players that night and the Spurs won, San Antonio would be the No. 2 seed and would be in line for homecourt advantage for the first two rounds of the playoffs.

Of course, an extra loss would have meant the Nuggets would have finished the season 53-29. That would have resulted in them losing the Northwest Division to Portland (54-28) and losing a tiebreaker to Houston (53-29) for the No. 4 seed.

So, if Popovich had used his top players that night and the Spurs won, the Nuggets now would be the No. 5 seed instead of having homecourt advantage to start the postseason for the first time since 1988.

John DeShazier, New Orleans Times-Picayune:

The Hornets owe the Lakers a “thank you” for giving them the biggest break they’ve gotten in a month, for doing for New Orleans what New Orleans repeatedly failed to do for itself.

Los Angeles’ victory over Utah on Tuesday night locked the Jazz into the No. 8 seed in the Western Conference, which means Utah will play the Lakers in the first round of the playoffs. Best for the Hornets, it guaranteed they couldn’t tumble to No. 8, regardless of what happened against the Spurs and wouldn’t have to see the Lakers so soon in the playoffs, or possibly at all.

And that’s nothing less than a pleasurable development for the Hornets, because there probably isn’t a soul outside the team’s locker room who believes New Orleans can beat the Lakers in a best-of-seven series.

Jim Eichenhofer, Big Easy Buzz Blog:

It was extremely encouraging to see Chandler in his first game since March 16. He scored 10 points while playing 20 minutes all prior to intermission. The best part of that may have been that he had four baskets on alley oop catches. It didn’t look like his mobility or lift was affected much by his ankle injury. Chandler recently stopped wearing his ankle brace for non-basketball activity, a sign that his ankle is getting stronger and the pain is lessening.

A few excerpts from Tyson’s latest blog post, posted before the game yesterday:

I’m still obviously not 100 percent. I may be about 70 percent. It’s been really tough…

I wanted to try to play the last two games of the season, but as it is I’ll just be playing in the last game. The coaches and trainers said I shouldn’t play in Monday’s game, but I feel like I really need to play in the last game because I want to get my timing as close as possible and as good as I can possibly get it before the playoff run…

I’m hoping that it will be able to last longer than it did the first time. I’m hoping that we’ll be able to monitor it and get me rest so that I can go throughout the playoffs.

The injury affects my ability to jump and my lateral movement. I’m used to being able to run, jump and block shots, but I noticed in the Atlanta game that when I felt like I was jumping, I wasn’t really getting off the ground. Even jump balls, normally I win jump balls, but on the ankle I don’t have the same explosion cause basically I’m jumping on one leg. I did that through that entire stretch I played through.

I haven’t practiced with the team; I’ve just been doing running, rehab and conditioning. I haven’t even had an opportunity to practice or play one-on-one or anything like that. Tonight will be my first time playing with contact since I went out.

Jimmy Smith of the Times-Picayune notes that last night vs. the Spurs was the first time the Hornets have had their preferred starting five on the court together since March 2. Also in that article, the following quotes from Byron Scott, David West and Tyson Chandler:

“The most important thing was that we play with a sense of purpose and play these guys like we did the last time,” Scott said, referring to the Hornets’ four-point win over San Antonio on March 29 at the New Orleans Arena.

“I kind of let my emotions out this morning and let the guys know how I felt, that, that it’s a ‘G.D.’ shame that I’m talking about this 81 games into the season, that this is the way we’ve got to play every single night. And whatever happens, happens. Again, I was just trying to reiterate to these guys that it’s just important for us to play that way.

But West afterward was still looking for more help from others against the Nuggets.

“(The Nuggets) are a tough team, a bunch of talent, but we need guys to step up, man, that’s the bottom line,” West said. “We’re going to need guys to make some plays for us. I just think tonight, it’s what we’ve been dealing with for the last month and a half. The teams we’re losing to and the teams we’re playing against have a few more guys to make plays.

“If we’re going to give ourselves any kind of chance against Denver, we need guys to make some plays for us.”

“I felt all right,” Chandler said. “I knew I wasn’t going to have the strength, but I felt like I did OK. I wanted to get out there and get up and down the court and get some contact. I did pretty well on defense, a little off on timing and communication, but I felt all right.”

“I’m still struggling with lateral movement,” he said.

A few of things from ESPN.com’s Hornets-Nuggets series page:

– The Nuggets have lost seven consecutive postseason series, tied for the longest active streak in the NBA (Rockets).

– The Nuggets have not advanced past the first round of the postseason since 1994.

– Carmelo Anthony has never won a postseason series (0-5).

– The Nuggets have not won a playoff series since stunning the Sonics in the first round in 1994 as the No. 8 seed.

There’s also a poll over at that series page, asking which team will win the series. Vote and you can see a state-by state breakdown of the results. When I last checked, 61% of 1,712 voters were picking the Nuggets to win the series. Only six states had a majority voting for the Hornets (Hawaii! We love you, too!!).

A recent Denver Post blog entry about the J.R. Smith – George Karl relationship. Sound familiar?

[Smith] and George Karl aren’t the best of buddies, and they probably never will be…

“We speak more than we have,” Smith says. “But not to where it’s a big relationship or anything like that.”

But Smith is not making a big deal out of it.

“At this point, it don’t even make a difference,” Smith said. “I’m just here for my teammates. I’ll do what they need me to do.”

Jeremy Wagner from Roundball Mining Company after the Nuggets got blown out by the Blazers last night:

Karl should have benched Melo, Chauncey, Nene and only let Kenyon play the first seven or eight minutes since he is still trying to get back in a groove after returning from his rib injury. 

Apart from the exposing the Nuggets key players to additional injury risk Karl might have damaged their psyche. I suspect the Nuggets will be able to simply shake the muck and mire off and move on with renewed focus to take on the New Orleans Hornets in the first round of the playoffs, but instead of rolling into the playoffs with confidence they will have a game where nothing went right for them fresh in their minds.

More thoughts on that game from Denver Stiffs:

In theory, the Nuggets and their fans got exactly what they wanted tonight: a two-seed going into the playoffs with a first round matchup against a banged up New Orleans Hornets team and a possible second-round matchup against a banged up San Antonio Spurs team.

But after getting blown out by the Trail Blazers in Portland after playing poorly against the league’s worst team (the Sacramento Kings, while playing their third game in four nights) on Monday night, I must confess that this fan’s confidence isn’t as high as it should be for a 54-win team. And yet I’m not panicking, either, and think we’ll figure out a way to beat the Hornets.

George Karl doesn’t seem worried about any lingering effects from the Nuggets loss to the Blazers. His words in the Denver Post this morning:

Heading into the playoffs, “to me, there’s a confidence that’s never been there before,” said George Karl, who has coached Denver since January of the 2004-05 season. “There’s always been a nervousness. We always had to talk about how we felt like we could beat a team or that we felt that we’re better. I’ll be honest with you, I think we think we’re better than the people we’re going to play. I think there’s a respect of the challenge. It seems like going into playoffs the last three years, when you’re playing the Lakers or Spurs, there’s a nervousness.”

The Nuggets Kenyon Martin ruffled some feathers against the Kings on Monday Chris Tomasson of the INDenver Times explains (see the incident early in this video):

According to an NBA spokesman, the league will take no further action on Martin for his flagrant foul 1 against Sacramento center Spencer Hawes midway through Monday’s first quarter. Martin hit Hawes on drive to the basket, and Hawes ended up being through for the night due to a strained left knee.

“That was thuggery, and you can quote me on that,’’ Maloof told the Sacramento Bee. “Kenyon Martin wasn’t trying to block the shot. He went right at Spencer when he was running full speed and at the (height) of his jump, when he was most vulnerable,

“Completely unnecessary. The Nuggets might not want to hear this, but there was no excuse for that, and he (Martin) needs to apologize to Spencer and our organization. That just wasn’t right.’’

Woody Paige of the Denver Post:

Kenyon is still struggling some. Rib injuries don’t heal readily.

Kenyon is playing hurt. And I believe he’s critical to the Nuggets’ chances of winning any playoff series, especially two. The Nuggets always have been soft, but Kenyon has given them a real toughness this year defensively. In fact, one of the two Maloof Bros. who own the Kings accused Kenyon of “thuggery” yesterday as a result of his play against Sacramento’s Spencer Hawes. Joe and his brother should shut up and go back and sit in the hot tub at their Vegas casino. They should worry about the worst team in the league.

Sports Illustrated listed Kenyon among the toughest players in the league earlier this season. The playoffs get rough, and he’ll get rougher.

Quick hitters:

P.M. Updates:

Posted at 12:36 Central.

I heard the Shaq trade rumor this morning but I didn’t list it above; threw it in Lagniappe instead. In case you haven’t heard, Mitch Lawrence of the New York Daily News “reported” the following:

Shaquille O’Neal thinks he’s going to New Orleans in a deal for Tyson Chandler. The Hornets are eager to move Chandler and would like Shaq’s expiring contract.

I’m not taking this seriously because there’s no source listed. Did Shaq tell Lawrence what he was thinking? Has a more revealing version of the story been reported elsewhere and I just missed it? I suggest nobody get too carried away with this unless there’s confirmation.

Moving on, and seven out of eight ESPN experts are predicting the Nuggets to win the series (source).

ESPN expert picks Hornets Nuggets

(Recall that only two ESPN experts picked the Hornets to beat the Mavs in the playoffs last season.)

Jonathan Abrams, New York Times:

[Hornets vs. Nuggets is] one of the more intriguing matchups. Carmelo Anthony has never made it out of the first round of the playoffs in his career, but this is the first time his team has had home-court advantage. Like Detroit, the dynamics of the team changed after the Billups-Iverson trade, but Denver saw a change for the better. Last season’s Hornets were a feel-good story in the N.B.A. and they pick-and-rolled their way to the second seed. The Hornets took a step back this season, but New Orleans seemed to emerge out of its slumber after a rescinded trade that would have sent center Tyson Chandler to the Oklahoma City Thunder. The message that got through: they had better do it now or never.

That’s all I’ve got. We have something a little different lined up this evening to preview the Hornets-Nuggets series so be sure to check back.

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