Hornets vs. Nuggets: Saturday News Wrap

Published: April 18, 2009

No afternoon update today, just this one big batch. And please help us make these news wraps better by telling us what you’d like to see more/less of in the comments. Have at it…

First off, here’s a backing track (direct mp3 link). Myself and Jeremy Wagner from Roundball Mining Company recorded a Hornets-Nuggets preview podcast with Alejandro de los Rios yesterday (with apologies for my crappy phone connection and the streetcars going by in the background).

John DeShazier, New Orleans Times-Picayune:

It’s doable — the Hornets just haven’t done a whole lot to make you believe they can, and will.

So expect the Nuggets to win the first-round playoff series in six games and to end a Hornets season that has been too bumpy for us to hope it’ll smooth out now…

…they haven’t often enough played like they’ll win a game they absolutely have to win. All the trips and stumbles of the regular season have provided so much reasonable doubt that, logically, there just isn’t a way to figure the Hornets, who finished the regular season by losing six of their last eight games, now can put it together and scale Denver, which won 14 of its final 17.

Rather, New Orleans gave the impression that if the season had lasted another 10 to 14 days, it could’ve completely backed out of the playoffs.

Nakia Hogan with some quotes in today’s T-P:

“Coach has done a great job,” Paul said. “We are in the playoffs despite all of the situations we’ve been through all season. You try to keep everyone as healthy as possible in the regular season, but you want everyone together for the playoffs. Now we have that opportunity.”…

“Winning 49 games with all the injuries we have had this year, I did a better job this year than I did last year,” Scott said. “I didn’t have to worry about all these injuries last year. The expectations were different last year. So almost winning 50 games despite all of that says a lot about our coaching staff and says a lot about our players as well.”…

Said Scott: “It was tougher this year because we did have so many injuries. Trying to mix and match and put different combinations out there was a little tougher. But in the long run it’s going to make us a better basketball team.

“We really haven’t been at full strength for a long time. I’m excited, but I’m also interested to see how we react to this first round.”

Jim Eichenhofer, Hornets.com:

The Nuggets were an excellent home team during the 2008-09 regular season, finishing 33-8 at the Pepsi Center. Dating back to the 1980s, Denver has often been a team with a greater-than-usual discrepancy between its success at home compared to road games, which some believe is due to the city’s high altitude. The theory goes that the thin air of the Mile High City is difficult for visiting players to adjust to, causing them to get winded quickly and make them more fatigued than normal.

Traditionally, the Hornets do not travel for road games until the day before the game – not two days prior like in this instance – which begs the question: Was that due to a desire to have an extra day to get acclimated to the thin air of Denver?

“Altitude aside, it always helps to get to practice in the city (where the game will be played),” said Hornets reserve forward Ryan Bowen, one of the team’s three former Nuggets. “It helps to get there and get settled in. We’re going to be like a baseball team, where we’ll be staying in the same hotel for five days, rather than packing up and leaving.”

James Posey, who played the first three-plus seasons of his NBA career in Denver, smiled when asked if the high elevation would impact the Hornets.

“It’s just air,” Posey quipped, drawing laughter. “You can get tired anywhere. It can be a mental thing. You just have to will your way through it.”

Sam Adams, INDenver Times:

“I’m on a mission,” Anthony declared after practice Friday.

The mission, for Anthony, is fairly easy to define. Shoot much better than the 37 percent field-goal percentage he has shown in 10 home playoff games. Show up big all over the box score. Win a playoff series.

Avoid the Tracy McGrady Syndrome.

Roundball Mining Company has an excellent video analysis of Tyson Chandler’s last game against the Denver Nuggets, which was during the 2007-08 season. A few words accompanying the video:

Chandler had ten points on four for five shooting and 16 rebounds as the Hornets defeated the Carmelo-less Nuggets 117-93 in New Orleans.  However, Chandler only had one block and played somewhat passively on the defensive end…

…watch for the timing he and Paul have on the pick and roll.  The duo combines to execute on plays where Chandler cuts to the rim immediately, when he makes a delayed cut and even in transition.  You have to wonder with Chandler missing so much time if they will still possess that sense of timing and chemistry. 

Defensively I thought it was interesting how Chandler was content to watch the action.  He moves well and generally is in the right position, but his lack of big shot blocking numbers can be attributed to the fact he is content to let his opponent score largely unchallenged.

Mike Moreau of Scouts Inc. has an in-depth series preview over at ESPN.com, and predicts the Nuggets to win it in six games. An excerpt:

The Hornets’ primary area of focus defensively will be in transition — getting back, matching up and preventing easy baskets. Denver will take a lot of quick shots early in the clock and won’t hesitate to pull from 3 on the break. Billups will get an early high ball screen or look for Carmelo Anthony right away, and the Nuggets will set an early screen to get Melo to his favorite spot on the elbow extended or on the wing…

Having Chandler back on the floor opens up the Hornets’ attack on the screen-and-roll with Chris Paul, and provides the lob option at the end of Paul’s drives. Paul will orchestrate, penetrate and find the shooters when the help comes. Denver will try multiple defenders and even play zone to try to slow Paul down. David West is the post option for the Hornets and he will back down or face up from the block, post extended or the elbow. The Hornets really haven’t had their full offensive arsenal in any game against Denver this year, so the Nuggets will have to prepare for personnel and situations they haven’t seen yet this season.

Also at ESPN.com, John Hollinger dumps a bunch of numbers into a computer and it tells him that the Nuggets have a 70% chance of winning the series. Hollinger’s explanation:

The Hornets were 10-11 in their final 21 games and finished just 14th in the Power Rankings, so you can expect this system to be pessimistic about their chances.

On the other hand, the Hornets were 32-18 when Tyson Chandler played, and 17-19 when he didn’t, and Chandler should be back — albeit diminished — for the opener. He’s recovering from a sprained ankle and isn’t at full strength yet, but the Hornets’ frontcourt depth is so woeful that he should still make a big difference.

Of course, the Nuggets can make a similar case, having been 44-20 when Carmelo Anthony and Chauncey Billups both played, and those two are in far less dire straits health-wise than Chandler. A second pro-Denver wild card: Anthony shot much worse than his historic norms in the regular season and could bounce back in the playoffs.

Throw in the Nuggets’ home-altitude advantage, and this could be over fairly quickly.

My prediction: Nuggets in 5

Pickaxe and Roll with a position-by-position Hornets-Nuggets preview. Writer Nate Timmons ties the power forward position, gives the Hornets a slight edge at point guard, and sees the Nuggets having an advantage at the other three spots. His take on Denver’s power forwards:

KMart is Denver’s stopper. He has a great matchup going against a not very athletic, but deadly shooter in David West. Kenyon has an opportunity to really win this series for the Nuggets with his defense. If KMart can stay out on West on the pick-and-pops the Hornets two man game of Paul and West love to run then the Nuggets will take this series easily. Martin has been lax to say the least on defense lately and I’m hoping he’s just been saving his energy for the playoffs. On offense Martin shouldn’t really need many plays ran for him. He’s most effective when he’s grabbing boards or climbing the sky for put-back dunks. I’m sure we’ll be seeing his laser jumpers and push shots, but I hope Kenyon doesn’t overstep his role.

I hear there is now a Facebook group petition to make the Birdman Colorado’s State Bird. Andersen isn’t on the floor a ton with Nene, but Karl has been running that lineup more recently. As long as Bird is rebounding and  going for reasonable block opportunities he’ll be a great big off the bench … like he’s been all season. Bird averages 5.3 points, 6.3 rebounds, and 1.5 blocks against the Hornets this season. He’ll be asked to keep the Hornet bigs off the glass as they average 9.8 offensive rebounds a game. Bird will get the fans flapping whenever he enters or leaves the game and the team will feed off his energy.

Erick Blasco of BallerBlogger.com has some regular season grades for every NBA team:

Denver Nuggets: A
With Chauncey Billups at the helm, Denver no longer has the lowest collective basketball IQ in the league. Chris Anderson’s been Marcus Camby without the hefty salary. Carmelo Anthony is more patient knowing that without Allen Iverson around, he’s the team’s alpha male, while J.R. Smith’s wondrous talents have begun to be refined. Also, the team actually has a collective defensive gameplan of trapping every high and wing screen and funneling the ball into their collection of shot-blockers at the hoop. Still, the Nuggets revert to their old ways against disciplined clubs, and clever teams often use Denver’s aggression against them, but it’s likely they’ll win their first playoff series in an eternity.

New Orleans Hornets: D-
Why did they mess with a good thing? Last year’s Hornets played at a much more frenetic pace than this year’s version. Instead, Chris Paul plays much more passively, relying on his teammates to make their own plays. David West is a talented third option, but doesn’t have the goods to be a championship-caliber second option. Rasual Butler isn’t a winning player, and Peja Stojakovic always disappears under the bright lights. Did the Hornets give San Antonio’s style of play too much credit after they knocked New Orleans out of the playoffs last year, or is Tyson Chandler really the catalyst that makes New Orleans go? Probably both.

(Note: Regarding pace, the Hornets were 26th in the NBA last season with a 89.9 pace factor. This season, they were 28th with a pace factor of 87.8. Source: 2008 | 2009)

More position-by-position analysis from Jim Eichenhofer at Hornets.com. His take on Rasual Butler vs. Dahntay Jones at shooting guard:

Prior to the season, it would have been an extreme reach to believe that Butler and Jones would be opposing each other as starters for 2009 NBA playoff teams. Butler received DNPs for the final two months of last season and entered this campaign hoping just to cement a spot in the Hornets’ rotation. He ended up emerging as New Orleans’ most improved player, moved into the starting lineup in mid-November, and was the team’s fourth-leading scorer. He has improved defensively this season, but his most important job is to help spread the floor for CP3 by draining open perimeter shots. Butler has been a clutch shooter all season, highlighted by memorable buzzer-beaters in Sacramento and Miami. His counterpart, Jones, is regarded as a journeyman, underlined by the fact that he earned a free-agent contract partly by suiting up for Denver’s summer-league team last July. At 6-foot-6, Jones is an excellent defender and one of several athletic Nuggets. His offensive role has been limited; despite starting 71 games in the regular season, Jones was Denver’s eighth-leading scorer at 5.4 points per game.

Chris Dempsey has more on Dahntay Jones at the Denver Post Nuggets blog

About a calendar year ago, Dahntay Jones was wrapping up a stint in the NBA Development League with the Fort Wayne Mad Ants, and Nuggets vice president of basketball operations, Mark Warkentien, was set to invite him to play for the Nuggets in summer league…

How good was the opportunity? Jones played in a career-high 79 games, getting a career-high 71 starts. The Nuggets were 48-23 when he started and 21-5 when he played 20 or more minutes. He is a defensive specialist and that’s why Warkentien said the Nuggets invited Jones to summer camp last summer in the first place.

“We were going to add some more defense to this mix,” Warkentien said. “And halfway through the camp, Dahntay won (the job).”

Also from Dempsey, a prediction of the Nuggets in six, and a coaching comparison:

Byron Scott is one of the league’s most overlooked coaches. He took two New Jersey teams to the NBA Finals, and is molding the Hornets into a perennial playoff team. Last season, the Hornets pushed San Antonio to seven games before falling in the second round. In nine seasons as an NBA coach, Scott is 32-20 in the playoffs. On the other side is George Karl, who is 13th on the all-time postseason wins list with 62. He has guided the Nuggets to five consecutive postseasons and is hungry to get his Nuggets to make a deep playoff run this year.

Larry Holder, Denver Post:

“I don’t know (why the bench has struggled this season),” Scott said. “It’s just been much more inconsistent than we’ve been last year. It’s no telling what’s going on.”

Benjamin Hochman reports on Denver being abuzz for the playoffs. A few bits and pieces from that article:

“The city seems to like our team, whereas in the past, I don’t know if the city liked our team,” said Karl, who helped change the culture this season by emphasizing team play. “I think the fans were fed up with the bad shots, lack of defense, lack of intensity. With the karma of the team, there’s an energy, and it’s contagious.”…

…the lips tattooed on Kenyon Martin’s neck are for his girlfriend, Trina, a hip-hop artist.

Also from Hochman in today’s Denver Post, a lengthy piece on Chauncey Billups. Excerpts:

“Blue-collar — I think it’s a compliment,” said the point guard, a 32-year-old Denver native. “There’s really no razzle or glitz and glamour about my game. My game is not athletic. It’s a skill game, methodical. I try to outthink my opponents. I’m not saying I’m a nonathlete, but most nights I’m going to play against guys who are faster than me. But I’m not going to play against a lot of guys who are stronger than I am. And I’m going to beat you with my knowledge of the game. That’s probably where the blue-collar thing comes into play.”…

“So much of playoff basketball is valuing every possession,” Nuggets coach George Karl said, “valuing intensity and energy on every possession and being mentally strong and tough on every possession. And I think I just defined Chauncey.”…

“Chauncey is the calm before the storm — he really has a cool pace to everything,” TNT analyst and former Pistons teammate Chris Webber said. “He has a calming presence — whether you’re a young player, older player, late in the quarter or the shot clock, whatever. And you need that in the leader of your team — a point guard, especially. He’s definitely a blue-collar worker, definitely.”

At The Hive looks back at the last decade of NBA playoffs, crunches numbers and puts some graphs together. Some interesting observations emerge:

1. Overall Efficiency decreases by 1.422 points per 100 possessions.
2. Teams use 1.922 fewer possessions per game.
3. Effective Field Goal Percentage decreases by 1.333%
4. Teams turn the ball over .344% less.
5. Assists decrease by 2.733%
6. Team Free Throw/Field Goal increases by 2.26 FT/FG.
7. Team Free Throws per Possession increase by 2.57.

Chris Dempsey has an update on Kenyon Martin’s status, plus some quotes about the importance of Game 1:

“It’s the most important game of the series, Game 1,” guard Chauncey Billups said after Friday’s practice at the Pepsi Center. “You work a long time to get home court and you don’t want to lose it in Game 1. We’ve just got to come out and be aggressive.”…

“Game 1, for guys who’ve played in them, is huge, especially when it’s at home,” forward Kenyon Martin said. “You have to take care of home, first and foremost. There’s a lot of energy in that game, a lot of intensity. We’ve just got to come out and be prepared to play, which I think guys are.

“We played 82 games to get to this point. This isn’t the time to relax, it’s a time to play harder.”…

Martin said playing the last two games of the season was a big help in getting ready for the playoffs.

He had missed the previous four with a left rib strain and wanted to get his timing back, among other things.

“Just getting back on the court, getting to feel the ball, getting up and down the court,” said Martin, who added his ribs feel fine. “I wasn’t out of shape, just had to get my wind back up. But everything else is all good.”

Benjamin Hochman lists James Posey as one of the “top five blue-collar players in the Western Conference playoffs.”

If you watched the Hornets-Spurs game Wednesday — the one that determined the Hornets would be Denver’s first- round opponent — you likely saw Posey’s improbable shot in overtime, in which he was falling to the floor and still flipped up a one-handed shot, which fell through the hoop when he fell to the hardwood. Posey is an aggressive reserve with an impressive resume — rings in Miami and Boston — who can shoot the big 3 and play a little defense too.

BDL’s series preview has input from Pickaxe and Roll, At The Hive and Kelly Dwyer. Quoting the latter:

Denver can flame out. I wouldn’t put it past them, nor would I be surprised if Chris Paul (and, to a lesser extent, David West) figuratively carry the Hornets to a win. That’s just quite a bit to bank on, y’know? Throw in the home court advantage and Denver’s depth, and I just can’t pick the Hornets.

And even though the season series was a split (both teams won two games handily, and both teams won two close games), this is either a Denver walk, or a drawn-out Hornets win. Just a hunch. And because I’m not that smart, I’ll split the difference with my guess at the final outcome.

Denver in 6.

Arnie Stapleton, Associated Press (USAToday.com):

(Chris) Andersen is one part of the Nuggets’ frontcourt trio of Comeback Kids, along with Nene, who returned from testicular cancer, and Martin, who’s overcome microfracture surgery to both knees.

“You have a cancer survivor that has been close to an All-Star year. You have a guy that has been maligned here because of his contract and now finally gives the foundation to a team that everybody expected of him,” Karl said. “And then you have Chris Andersen, who, when I put in the game, there is a spirit to him walking up to the scorer’s table. That doesn’t happen in pro ball.

“Even the haters like Chris Andersen.”

Andersen’s ban lasted almost two years after he tested positive for an undisclosed “drug of abuse.” He said he spent his time away from the game cleaning up his life and plotting his return.

“I kept a positive mind through it all. I stayed optimistic. I knew I wanted to come back and to be in the position I’m in,” Andersen said. “Being on a team in second place in the Western Conference is just one of the rewards that I got through the hard work. The hard work paid off.”

Quick hitters:

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