Hornets vs. Nuggets: Friday News Wrap

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Published: April 17, 2009

(If you’re new, check the top of this post for the 411 on these news wraps.)

A.M. Updates:

Starting off with a few quick highlights from our live chat with Jeremy Wagner of Roundball Mining Company last night (you can read through the conversation here):

Jeremy Wagner:  Over the previous two games against New Orleans Denver forced Paul into five and then six turnovers. If they can hound him to that extent I like Denver’s chances.

Ryan Schwan:  If Posey is guarding JR for any stretch of time, the Hornets Die. Posey does not have the speed to track JR. He can do well against Carmelo though.

Ryan Schwan:  In games West has played against Martin, he’s only shot 42%. He did, however, draw more fouls than usual. It is a tough matchup for him.

Jeremy Wagner:  The Nuggets have gone through long stretches struggling again the Pick and Roll. They have chosen to switch screens very frequently. However, against the Hornets Denver has improved as the season went along. I do not think you will see much switching by the Nuggets. Look for aggressive trapping.

[Comment From Jon ]
Trivia note: Could this be the greatest elevation difference in a playoff series ever? Between The Mile High City and New Orleans being *below* sea level…is there any precedent for a team getting the bends just from the alternating locales?

John Reid of the New Orleans Times-Picayune sets the record straight about those Shaq-to-Hornets trade rumors:

It is unlikely the Hornets would make a trade of that magnitude when they will need to dump salaries to get under the luxury tax theshold. For a trade to be approved, the Hornets would have to match within 15 percent of O’Neal’s $20 million salary that expires after next season. That means the Hornets would have trade additional players besides Chandler, who is set to make $11,850,000 next season, to obtain O’Neal. Those additional players’ salaries would have total up to $8 million, so it could mean having to move several players to make it work out.

Then, if you combined O’Neal’s salary, along with the contracts of the other top three players (none of whom have expiring contracts) David West, who will make $9 million next season, Peja Stojakovic’s $14.2, and Chris Paul’s $13.7 million — that he is set to make in the first year of his contract extension — those contracts alone would exceed $56 million. If the Hornets do not make any trades this summer, their projected salary would be $76.4 million. So, it wouldn’t make much sense to try to trim payroll by trading for a guy who makes a lot more than anyone on the team.

Initial thoughts on the Hornets-Nuggets series from Jeremy at Roundball Mining Company:

Melo has struggled with various schemes and individual defenders in the playoffs over the years.  I think finally he has a good matchup.  He will be covered primarily by Peja and James Posey.  We all know Peja has no chance covering Melo, but I do not think Posey can hang with him either.  Posey has a rep of being a very good defender, but he does not have the quickness or strength to cover Melo one on one.  They way Melo has been attacking the rim and posting up more frequently over the previous couple of weeks I think he has a big series.

Also the Nuggets have shown good progress over the course of the season in defending the pick and roll.  Paul will always get his assists, but over the last two meetings, both in New Orleans, the Nuggets forced him into committing five turnovers in one game and six in the other.  If the Nuggets can continue that success they will be in great shape…

Chris Paul is a competitor and his will to win may be stronger than any individual Nugget player and David West is a fighter as well, but collectively I do not see the Hornets matching the Nuggets’ desire and that is a huge key to this matchup.  We have seen how powerful the Nuggets can be when they play with focus and I think we are going to see a very focused group.

Sean Deveney of SportingNews.com:

The Nuggets will pressure Chris Paul, overwhelm the Hornets with their fast break and advance to the second round for the first time since 1994.

Nuggets in 6.

As we noted in yesterday’s news wrap, Henry Abbott was the lone ESPN expert to pick the Hornets over the Nuggets. He later posted his reasoning on TrueHoop:

– With a fairly healthy Tyson Chandler, they are a much better team than with no Tyson Chandler. Thanks to the majesty of Chris Paul, they have been OK without him, and now he’s coming back.

– No matchups are great for New Orleans, but they did get a team in the Nuggets that they have played well. The teams split their four games, even though Chandler didn’t play in any of them.

– The magic of almost knocking off the Spurs last year made a big impression on me.

Denver Stiffs lists a few things the Nuggets must do to get out of the first round. In brief:

– Carmelo Anthony’s first shot and every third shot must be a drive.
– J.R. Smith’s first shot and every third shot must be a drive.
– Stop whining with the refs.
– No more finger rolls and flip shots around the basket from Nene.
– Take care of the ball. Please.
– Enough with the AC-to-Birdman inbounds dunk play.
– Put forth a set rotation.
– Don’t lose the “everyone thinks we’re going to suck” mindset.
– George Karl must stand up.

NOLA.com’s David Schexnaydre Jr. highlights some key factors ahead of the Hornets-Nuggets series. One of them is the play of J.R. Smith:

Let’s put it this way, Smith is scoring 15 points whether the Nuggets win or lose. It’s how he gets his 15 points that determines if they win or lose.

If he shoots well from the field and can score in the flow of the game, they’ll win. If he’s off and has to start forcing things and gets out of control, they’ll lose. No matter what he’s probably going to score 15, but you just have to make him take his team out of the game while he’s getting his 15.

In games against the Hornets this year, Smith was the Nuggets second highest scorer, averaging 21.3 points per game. And while scoring his 21 points he also shot an absurd 52.5% from the field. The good news is that the Nuggets averaged only 97 points per game against the Hornets, greatly under their season average, so if the Hornets can contain Smith and keep him to a forced and out of control 15 points per game, then the Hornets’ chances greatly improve.

Chris Tomasson writes about the maturation of Carmelo Anthony for USA Today:

The Nuggets were the West’s No. 2 seed entering Wednesday and have clinched home-court advantage to start the postseason for the first time since 1988.

“I’m going to take advantage of that, and the team will take advantage,” Anthony said. “I don’t want to be known as never getting out of the first round. It motivates you.”

NBA.com’s Dave McMenamin picks the Nuggets in six, wondering how effective Chandler, Posey and Stojakovic will be for the Hornets:

They’ve missed nearly a full season’s worth of games among them and each brings a vital component to the court. So, what happens if Stojakovic’s back keeps him from providing a deep threat, Chandler’s ankle keeps him from playing defense and Posey’s elbow keeps him from doing all of the above this postseason?

All three played in the Hornets’ season finale loss to the Spurs, with Stojakovic going 0-for-5 in 28 minutes, Chandler scoring 10 points but only collecting three rebounds against three turnovers in 20 minutes and Posey contributing two points, an assist and a bunch of zeros in 13 minutes.

Also from the above link, a number:

14.7 — Combined, Denver’s blocks per game (6.02, 2nd in the NBA) and its steals per game (8.67, 3rd in the NBA) are tops in the NBA — one way to quantify the disruptive defense that Denver has added to its arsenal.

At The Hive delivers an in-depth comparison of the Hornets and Nuggets, complete with graphs. Well worth clicking through and reading all of that. Here are just a few excerpts:

Turnovers are the real shortcoming of Denver’s high octane offense. They’re one of the most risk-taking teams in the conference. Defensively, it didn’t hurt them too much this year as the Nuggets ceded very low field goal percentages. Offensively, it has hurt them as they rank only 24th in the league in ball control. New Orleans didn’t force nearly as many turnovers this year as it did last, but they still have the league’s top theft man in Chris Paul. As a team, the Hornets finished slightly above league average in forcing turnovers, and that should be more than enough against this Denver squad. A pretty significant advantage for New Orleans…

FT/FG on defense will be the real problem for New Orleans. Nobody gets to the line like Denver does; in fact, nobody is even close. Much of that is due to what I mentioned above- between Smith, Melo, Chauncey, Nene, and Kleiza, they have five guys that can legitimately create open shots at will. Shot creation goes hand in hand with foul drawing. James Posey, Chris Paul, and Tyson Chandler will be the keys defensively. This is a huge advantage for Denver, and the series could get out of hand quickly if Byron Scott doesn’t adapt well…

The difference in team pace is remarkable. It will be interesting to see if Byron Scott tries to force Denver to play a half court game, or whether he lets Chris Paul and Co. run with the Nuggets. My feeling is he’ll hedge towards the former, while allowing the Hornets to take limited fast break opportunities when the present themselves.

From Jim Eichenhofer’s series preview over at Hornets.com:

In many ways, this ’09 Nuggets postseason appearance mirrors that of the ’08 Hornets. Much like last season’s Hornets, very few outside observers expected much of Denver, which was projected to miss the playoffs by virtually everyone. In fact, in ESPN.com’s excellent NBA season preview, none of the website’s 10 writers picked the Nuggets to reach the postseason, with an average projection of a 10th-place finish in the formidable Western Conference…

Although it will likely receive considerably less media attention than Smith and Andersen getting a chance to face their former team, as it turns out, New Orleans has more ex-Nuggets than Denver has ex-Hornets. James Posey, Ryan Bowen and Devin Brown all played for Denver early in their NBA careers. In fact, Posey and Bowen were both Nuggets draft picks who spent a combined 8 ½ seasons in Denver (Brown’s Nuggets background is considerably briefer – he appeared in three games for them during the 2002-03 season).

Marc Stein’s thoughts on the Hornets and Nuggets:

Carmelo Anthony, J.R. Smith, Nene and Chris Andersen all had big seasons, individually, and Kenyon Martin played in 66 regular-season games as the first player to come back from microfracture surgery on both knees. Yet it is Billups, on top of his still-solid game at 32, who keeps the locker room unified…

Karl keeps saying his team has never been so flush with confidence, but this start will be far tougher than the Nuggets envisioned in the first round after breaking through to win the Northwest Division and expecting Dallas or Utah for days…

The Hornets just might be the most dangerous lower seed in either conference, in spite of their many injuries, thanks largely to their placement in the bracket opposite the Lakers…

The Hornets’ iffy health… is the constant focus, with Chandler (foot) and Peja Stojakovic (back) far from 100 percent and unlikely to get closer without some serious time off in the summer.

Nakia Hogan, New Orleans Times-Picayune:

…for all the aching of Peja Stojakovic’s back and the rescinded trade of Tyson Chandler and the fourth-place finish in the Southwest Division for the favorite Hornets, the mood surrounding the team was, somehow, in good spirits at Thursday’s practice. Perhaps that’s because the team is together and healthy for the first time since March 2, and its 49-33 regular season is moot…

“Now it’s a new season,” All-Star point guard Chris Paul said. “We start Sunday, and it’s 0-0. It’s a clean slate. Everything that has taken place this season will all go out the window. We have a chance to right that ship now.

“This is what we play for. We played the whole regular season to get to this point. It’s been an up-and-down season, but the best thing about this situation is that it can all be corrected right now.”

Hogan also writes about Tyson Chandler in today’s T-P:

Hornets Coach Byron Scott said he’ll try to limit Chandler’s practice time, but he wants him to get in enough work in practice so he isn’t easily fatigued during games.

“Do I think it is important for him to go the whole two hours or whatever we go (today) and the next day? No, I don’t,” Scott said. “I just think he needs a little bit at a time. He’s still working on his conditioning. That’s the one thing he said about the San Antonio game, his lungs were just burning running up and down the court. Obviously, in the next few days, we want to see if we can get him in a little better shape.”…

Said Hornets point guard Chris Paul: “Just having [Tyson] out on the court gives us a different mind frame. Having him at the rim to throw the lobs to and rebounding and contesting shots, it’s going to be good having him Sunday night.”

Jim Eichenhofer on the Hornets’ health:

It would be misleading to say that the Hornets are completely healthy now, because Chandler is not likely to be at full strength during the postseason. Stojakovic and Posey (elbow) still appear to be trying to regain their timing after injuries that caused them to miss games in March or April. In four games since his return, Posey has averaged 8.5 points and shot 38 percent from the field. Stojakovic played in the final eight games of the regular season, averaging 10.1 points on 35 percent shooting.

Jimmy Smith of the Times-Picayune writes about a few of Chris Paul’s spectacular moves in the NBA. What hasn’t Paul done?

“The throwing between the guys legs, and I still haven’t really done it in a game, but Jamaal Tinsley, he did it to Hilton (Armstrong) a couple times last year,” Paul said. “When the big guy comes up, and you’re looking who to pass it to, you can just throw it through his legs and lay it up. I’m waiting on that one.”

Just for kicks, video of some of the moves mentioned in Smith’s article:

From mW at Hornets Hype:

MEMO TO BYRON SCOTT: free Mo Pete.  The man has skills.  He’s a former starter.  Maybe Rasual is playing well, maybe they duplicate skills.  But what’s wrong with having the same guy come in, when you refuse to change your offensive set for your back-ups?  The case isn’t even close.  Mo Pete is the most talented, most reliable back-up you have among a bench full of inconsistent bench players, so there’s no excuse not to play him.

The stats all say you should.  Isn’t the Hornets’ success in the Playoffs more important than whatever non-basketball issues Byron might have with Mo?

Benjamin Hochman, Denver Post:

“Nene has done a great job at bringing what I call ‘efficient offense,’ ” Karl said. “Offensively, he gives us very effective touches. Sometimes, we don’t give him enough touches. He delivers as good an efficiency as anyone on our team. J.R. (Smith) and Carmelo (Anthony) might have more explosiveness and the ability to score 12 points in five minutes, but sometimes efficiency is better than explosiveness. How we balance that out is important.”

Nene will start out on Chandler, Karl said, and versatile power forward Kenyon Martin will guard his all-star counterpart David West, though it’s possible Nene will spend time on West, and late in the game, Martin might even spend some time rattling Paul.

And while the Nuggets have struggled rebounding this season (15th in the NBA), New Orleans is a welcoming matchup because, as TNT analyst Doug Collins said by phone, “One of the Hornets’ weaknesses is they’re not very big. They’re very small on that front line. (Small forward) Peja Stojakovic is more of a perimeter guy. They’ll go to a lineup where (reserve guard/forward) James Posey is at the four position.”

Following up on yesterday’s story about Kenyon Martin, this report from ESPN:

Sacramento Kings owner Joe Maloof won’t be getting an apology from Denver Nuggets forward Kenyon Martin for his hard foul on Spencer Hawes earlier this week.

“Apologize to him? I’m not apologizing to him. I apologized to Spencer after the game, but before he opens his mouth he needs to know what’s going on,” Martin said…

“I’m not apologizing to him whatsoever. I don’t owe him or the Sacramento Kings an apology,” Martin said. “I apologized to the person I needed to apologize to when I saw him when I was leaving the game.”

Martin added a dig at Maloof, whose team finished with the worst record in the NBA this season at 17-65.

“If you don’t know the circumstances — he wasn’t there, he wasn’t in Denver — then he should worry about his team getting better and getting out of last place,” Martin said.

(Once again, you can see video of Martin’s hard foul here. Honestly, it doesn’t look all that hard, but it’s not the best angle.)

The Wages of Wins Journal takes a numerical approach to picking the winner of each first round series. Their take on Hornets-Nuggets:

Denver’s Efficiency Differential: 3.51

New Orleans’ Efficiency Differential: 1.71

Comments: New Orleans actually had the 9th best differential in the Western Conference.  So if efficiency differential was used to pick the playoff teams, Phoenix would be in and New Orleans would be at home.  The Hornets do have the most productive player in the game.  Chris Paul produced 29.5 wins and posted a 0.471 WP48 [Wins Produced per 48 minutes]. As noted last January, Paul’s numbers remind us of Magic Johnson.  Paul, though, doesn’t have the help Magic had with the Lakers in the 1980s. In fact, with Tyson Chandler’s decline this year, there really is no other outstanding player on this team once you get past Paul.  Consequently, Denver should be favored.

Pick: Denver over New Orleans (4-3)

Mark Travis, But The Game Is On:

Chris Paul: Four playoff triple-doubles in one round? Book it. 30-12-10-5(steals). He will carry this team to the second round and most likely farther than that.

Prediction: Hornets in 5.

Bruce Jenkins, San Francisco Chronicle:

Quite a reversal from last year, when the Nuggets went the knucklehead route and Chris Paul’s Hornets seemed capable of anything. It’s a new Denver team with point guard Chauncey Billups running the show (“They finally have a brain on those athletes,” cracked Phil Jackson) and the likes of Carmelo Anthony, J.R. Smith, Kenyon Martin and Chris (Birdman) Andersen, that shot-blocking fool, playing so well.

New Orleans, meanwhile, seems to be in free-fall. “I’m just throwing pieces in there to see what works,” admitted coach Byron Scott last week. “Somebody who can give us consistent minutes besides CP and David (West). I don’t even have a set rotation right now.” He does have Tyson Chandler, back from a long injury absence, but this will be Denver’s first trip beyond the first round in six years.

Nuggets in seven.

Quick hitters:

P.M. Updates:

Posted at 1:58 p.m. Central.

First off, a look back at the NBA Blog Previews. How accurate were our predictions? Not very. We here at the 247 predicted the Hornets to win 59 games, Hornets Hype predicted 58, and At The Hive predicted 57. Of course, the Hornets finished the regular season with a 49-33 record.

Denver Stiffs with more analysis of the Hornets-Nuggets series, giving Denver the advantage when it comes to health, small forward, center, bench and mascot (shooting guard and coach are tied). An excerpt:

Starting shooting guard is the weakest link for both the Nuggets and Hornets. The Hornets start Rasual Butler and his erratic 43.3% field goal shooting (up from 35% last season). Check out Butler’s shooting in the final eight games of the season as the Hornets were fighting desperately for a home court advantage: 3-14, 9-15, 3-9, 4-11, 2-7, 5-12, 1-9, 4-11 (and no, those aren’t J.R. Smith numbers from last season). And you wonder why the Hornets lost six of their last eight.

But while we all admire and respect the nightly effort the Nuggets get from their shooting guard Dahntay Jones – especially on the defensive end – we still cringe when the ball is in his hands on the offensive end of the floor. And I’m still not convinced that Jones is as good a defender as everyone says he is. He falls in that shooting guard “we all say he’s a good defender because he can’t shoot” category, like his predecessors in Denver Yakhouba Diawara, Tariq Abdul-Wahad and Bryant Stith. But to Jones’ credit, he’s a hard working pest who will use his six fouls to bother Chris Paul throughout this series.

Michael Bialas of the InDenver Times with some words from the TNT crew:

(Reggie) Miller… doesn’t believe a series win by the New Orleans Hornets would be surprising.

“Is that really considered an upset when New Orleans could easily have been a team that had home-court advantage? No,” Miller said… “But if I had to pick one … home court is going to be so important to Denver. …

“For a team that, especially with Chauncey (Billups) coming over and them playing particularly well, they’ve got to win those first two games at home. If the Hornets find a way to steal a game, that could be a scary series for the Nuggets.”

(Charles) Barkley, who has been proven right by the Nuggets’ inability to get past the first round in this decade, has little reason to believe they’ll improve their chances this season.

“(The Nuggets’) two best players are jump shooters,” he said during TNT’s coverage last week of the Nuggets-Lakers game. “I don’t know if they can score enough from their bigs to be an elite team. They’ve got a good team; any team that has Carmelo Anthony and Chauncey Billups is going to be solid. I’m talking about in the long haul. Can their big guys score enough points on a consistent basis? Right now I say, ‘No.’”

John DeShazier of the Times-Picayune thinks Rasual Butler should win the Most Improved Player award:

He raised his scoring average from 4.9 points last year, when he played 17.2 minutes and started eight times in 51 games, to 11.2 points in 31.9 minutes this year, when he has started 74 of 82 games.

Butler tailed off down the stretch, partly because defenses began to pay more attention to him and probably because he played more minutes than he ever had in a season. But give me the longshot over the sure shot in this category every time.

Bradley Handwerger, WWL-TV.com:

On Sunday, when the Hornets play at Denver in their first-round series opener, it will mark only the seventh time since the All-Star break in mid-February that New Orleans will play with its full complement of players.

As shocking as that is, another number stands out as even more absurd – in the 82-game season just completed, New Orleans has used the starting lineup of Chris Paul, Rasual Butler, Peja Stojakovic, David West and Tyson Chandler only 25 times…

“No. Tyson isn’t 100 percent,” Scott said. “Tyson probably won’t be 100 percent this whole payoff series. He’s as close as he has been in a long time. Peja, David, CP, all those guys are pretty much healthy.”

Guerry Smith, New Orleans Sports Examiner:

Since the NBA went to a 16-team playoff in 1984, the No. 7 seed has upset the No. 2 seed only four times out of 50, and the last occurrence was 11 years ago, when the New York Knicks beat the Miami Heat.  Number-2 seeds are 12 for 12 since the NBA expanded first-round series to best-of-seven from best-of-five in 2003.

The Hornets should be ready to play their best ball of the season, but so should the athletic Nuggets, who have won 13 of their last 14 home games. Emotions in the Mile-High City will excede the altitude because Denver has not had home-court advantage in a series since 1988.

Brandon Gallawa, TalkHoops.net:

Prediction – Hornets in Six.

Ultimately the Hornets have not only the best player in the series but one of the top five players in the league, and you don’t bet against a player as good as Paul when two teams are evenly matched.

Quick hitters:
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