Hornets vs. Nuggets: Sunday News Wrap

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Published: April 19, 2009

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

A.M. Updates:

We’ll start with a great round table discussion over at At The Hive, featuring ticktock6 and mW from Hornets Hype, Jim Eichenhofer from Hornets.com, and David Schexnaydre from the Times-Picayune. I’ll just list the questions they tackled here, and mention that all four participants picked the Hornets to win the series.

1. What is the most dangerous obstacle facing New Orleans in the first round (could be a fast pace, a specific player, etc.)?

2. Let’s say the home team wins the first 6 games. Do you think this Hornets team is capable of winning a Game 7 this time around, and if so, what’s changed since last year?

3. Peja played Denver well in four games this season and could be an X-factor. Is there any reason you guys saw for that during the season (I was always too busy looking up why Tyson had missed yet another Nuggets game), and who do you think has a more productive series- him or J.R. Smith?

4. Are any of you concerned with the Hornets from a mental perspective right now? Paul looked on the verge of tears after the Spurs loss, and this team has endured a really painful final month. Do you think the psychological beating the team took will have any bearing in this series?

5. What’s your ideal back-up big man rotation? Who’s the first big in, who gets the most minutes, and is it worth trying work Hilton back into the swing of things?

6. There are a lot of crazy good offensive players between these two. CP3, Melo, West, Billups, Peja, J.R., and Nene can each go off at any time. Who will be the most important defender on either team, i.e., which single player’s defense will be most crucial to his team’s success?

7. … and prediction time. Who ya got and how many games?

Chris Tomasson, INDenver Times:

“In seven,’’ (Carmelo) Anthony said of his team doing away with New Orleans in seven games in a West first-round series that starts Sunday.

Anthony’s prediction came about when INDenverTimes asked him Saturday about a Friday quote in which Anthony said “probably only about one or two people out there are giving us a shot.’’ Anthony was told a lot of people are picking the Nuggets to beat the Hornets.

“I don’t believe that,’’ Anthony said, before adding, “I’m picking us.’’…

“This is my time to shine,’’ he said. “It’s our time to shine. It was a great year for us . . . I think this is our year. I think we can go pretty far. I don’t really like saying how far we can go. But if we’re playing the way we’re capable of playing, I think the sky’s the limit for us.’’

John Reid of the New Orleans Times-Picayune writes about the roster changes likely coming for the Hornets this offseason:

Without a guarantee from management that he is in their plans for next season, Hornets starting center Tyson Chandler is approaching the playoffs like it might be his final run with All-Stars Chris Paul and David West.

Regardless how the Hornets fare against the Denver Nuggets in the opening round of the playoffs, the consensus among the players is that changes are forthcoming this summer. The only uncertainty is the extent of management’s desire for a makeover…

“You never know what the future holds, so you’ve got to take every game like its your last,” said Chandler, who said his sprained left ankle is still not completely healed, but he will start tonight in Game 1 at Denver. “That’s how I’ve got to look at it.”…

“This summer, we’re going have to do some tinkering and find some other pieces to the puzzle, but I love our core guys,” Scott said.

“I like our group overall, but I still think we have some improvement to do. I think we can get more athletic. I still want us to get up and down the court a lot better and faster.”…

“I like playing with these guys,” Chandler said. “I felt last year we had an opportunity, and we let it slip away from us. We want to get it done this time.”

In the T-P, Jimmy Smith writes about the Hornets’ bench woes:

“It’s something that can be rectified,” (Byron Scott) said. “If the bench comes back and plays great this series, everything will be forgotten about how it played in the regular season.

“They’ve got a chance to show everybody that they do belong, that they can play, and that they can be contributors to what we need them to do on the court. And if they are, obviously we have a good chance at winning.”

Bench production for the Hornets this season has, at times, been so bedeviling that All-Stars David West and Chris Paul played long enough to be ranked in the top 10 in minutes played…

“With our rotation,” Scott said, “I’ve got to just play guys that I feel are going to be able to go out there and help us, guys who can play the best at that particular time. It might be 10 or 11 guys to play. And they might play two or three minutes. And if they play well, they’ll play longer.

“Right now, it’s not about trying to give guys time to get confident or go out there and get comfortable. If you don’t have your confidence now, and you’re not comfortable, I can’t help you. It’s that simple. I’ve always told my guys, I want to play nine or 10 guys every single game. But if it takes seven guys or eight guys to win, that’s what I’ll do. If it takes six, that’s what I’ll do.”

Chris Tomasson of the INDenver Times with a bunch of quotes about pressure:

“Yeah, I’d say the pressure is on (the Nuggets), being they have the homecourt and the two seed, they’re supposed to win,’’ (Ryan) Bowen said. “We have pressure on us too, having made it one game form the Western Conference finals last year, and earlier in the year a lot of people picking us.

“But I would say there’s more pressure on them because of what they’ve been through (with the first-round losses), and the additions (most notably guard Chauncey Billups) they’ve made and obviously had a great year.’’…

“There’s pressure, a lot of pressure,’’ Anthony said. “There’s a lot of pressure on me, but pressure is fun. If I didn’t have any pressure in this game of basketball, then I don’t think I’d be here talking to you.’’…

“I don’t feel that way,’’ Karl said. “I think this is a year of celebration. We’ve done a great job of kind of changing faces and changing situations and there’s a product here that should be celebrated, not scrutinized to the point of being a hater, being a negative dude. I know there are going to be those people out there.’’…

“It is carefree for us,’’ said Hornets coach Byron Scott, whose team also lost forward Peja Stojakovic for 21 regular-season games. “We had a season full of injuries and we still managed to win 49 games. This is the first time in a long time we’re going to have a whole team play together. We don’t have any pressure.’’

The T-P’s Jimmy Smith takes a look back at the coaching changes the Hornets have seen since moving to New Orleans.

It didn’t take long after the Hornets’ first-round playoff exit in 2003 for the wheels of change to begin spinning.

In the waning days of the season, when it became apparent that Coach Paul Silas wouldn’t get a new contract — he was looking for a salary closer to the then-NBA average of $3.28 million, which would have more than doubled his $1.5 million salary — it also was evident that the Hornets would be making a change.

“There was some undo pressure on Paul Silas,” said former Hornets president of basketball operations Bob Bass, “and maybe I shouldn’t even say this, but that other owner, he was strong about (feeling) that he would like to change coaches.”

The “other owner” was minority partner Ray Wooldridge, who wanted his friend Mike Fratello, in the head coach’s chair.

Also from that article, P.J. Brown’s take on Tim Floyd:

I was excited personally about Coach Floyd because I had played against him when I was at Louisiana Tech. We had some battles with UNO back in the day, so I knew what kind of coach he was. I had a great time,. Even though he was only there a short time, I enjoyed playing under him. I still believe today he’s one of the best coaches in the country, so it was a fun time being under him that year.”

The most perplexing series preview I’ve seen, courtesy of “longtime New Orleans high school coach and former three-year Dallas Mavericks assistant Bernard Griffith” in the Times-Picayune. Griffith gives the Nuggets the edge at point guard, shooting guard, small forward, center, bench and coaching, only favoring the Hornets at power forward and intangibles. A few of the pieces I found most unusual:

Point guard: Chris Paul vs. Chauncey Billups: Chauncey Billups gets the advantage because of his experience. You can look for the Nuggets to jam up the middle and force Chris to beat them with a jump shot. Chauncey will put forth a real good effort to keep him on the left side of the floor. The Hornets will try to start Chris on the right side of the floor and use some sideline pick-and-rolls with him. Edge: Billups.

Coaching: Byron Scott vs. George Karl. George gets the edge, just by the seasoning in the league and his ability to get guys to do what he wants them to do, not that Byron doesn’t. But George is more of a freelance coach. He’s going to let them play basketball a lot more than run sets. Advantage: Karl.

Prediction: I think the Nuggets. But if I’ve got to bet, I’d put my money on the Hornets in six.

Chris Dempsey, Denver Post:

New Orleans center Tyson Chandler is going to play in this series, but he says he’ll be only “70-75” percent of himself throughout the series due to a persistent ankle injury.

“It’s getting a little better day-by-day,” Chandler said after Saturday’s practice at the Pepsi Center.

Asked if he would be 100 percent at any point, Chandler said no.

“I don’t think that’s going to happen,” he said. “Not through the playoffs. The summertime, but not the playoffs.”

Still, the Nuggets say they are wary of Chandler, who makes a living catching alley-oop dunks and generally keeping the Hornets’ offense on schedule by getting high percentage baskets.

“Basically we just treated it as if he was healthy,” Nuggets center Chris Andersen said.

Also from Dempsey, an article about Kenyon Martin and Byron Scott, in which KMart says he had nothing to do with Scott being fired as head coach of the Nets five years ago. An excerpt:

“But it wasn’t my call. It wasn’t my call at all,” Martin said Saturday after practice. “We weren’t playing particularly great basketball at the time, but still I think a higher power had something to do with it. I don’t think it was somebody (on the team) around there. I think it was other calls, just like in my situation. It was other people making the decisions that don’t know nothing about basketball.”…

“Knowing the battles that we were in together, it’s cool for him to be on that side and me to be on the opposite side now,” Martin said. “Both of us have moved from New Jersey under weird circumstances. Everybody thinks he shouldn’t have gotten fired, and say I shouldn’t have ever left. It’s cool for us both for us still to be successful in the playoffs and things like that.

“I knew he’d coach again. Just from going in and getting to the Finals, you can’t have a guy like that and you never give him an opportunity again. I’m happy he’s doing well down there. He never treated me nothing but great.”

John Reid, New Orleans Times-Picayune:

When he played for the Hornets, J.R. Smith was young and inconsistent. But after four seasons in the league, Smith has now matured into becoming one of the league’s top reserves.

Coach Byron Scott considers Smith a priority to contain when the Hornets play the Denver Nuggets in Game 1 of their best-of-seven first-round playoff series Sunday night at the Pepsi Center. Smith, who plays shooting guard, averaged a career-high 15.2 points during the regular season.

“With his size and speed and range, it was all about J.R. growing up and working on his own,” Scott said. “I think he will be the first to admit that he has matured in the last couple of seasons. He’s playing close to his potential. He will be a tough cover. J.R. is one of their X-factors coming off the bench.”

Chris Tomasson, INDenver Times:

Expect Karl to shorten his rotation in the playoffs to nine players, perhaps 8½.

Bench players whom Karl are expected to use regularly are Andersen, Smith and guard Anthony Carter. Forward Linas Kleiza is expected to get time, but it might could be less than the 22.2 minutes he averaged during the regular season.

“Minutes are going to go up and down,’’ said an unconcerned Kleiza.

The odd man out in the rotation figures to be forward Renaldo Balkman. He had some strong outings in March but faltered late in the season.

Benjamin Hochman, The Denver Post:

Rosewood Crescent Hotel in Dallas is one of those impossibly opulent spots — six stars, if you will — with a 22,000-square-foot spa, a high-end sushi restaurant and two-story suites. On March 26, the day after a game at New Orleans, the Nuggets’ starters had a day off at the posh hotel, but the reserves had practice at Southern Methodist University.

After the team bus pulled up at SMU, the usual suspects walked off — Renaldo Balkman, Johan Petro, Steven Hunter — but then, like a star cameo in a movie, out popped Carmelo Anthony.

“It just lifted everybody,” assistant coach Chad Iske said of Anthony’s presence. “It turned into a great workout — one of our best practices and one of our best days, because he made a great leadership move on his part. All the younger guys and the guys on the bench saw that, and it’s a positive thing for them to see.

“When your best player is working hard, your other players have to follow suit.”…

“I’m on a mission — I’m on a mission, man,” said Anthony, who has lost in the first round five consecutive postseasons. “I’m sick of just being in the first round. That’s the only thing I’ve been thinking about. This series, I’m on a mission.”…

…after the No. 2-seeded Nuggets practiced Saturday, Anthony was asked about his attitude for this postseason.

“Apply pressure,” he said. “That’s my slogan. Make that a headline.”

Anthony Cotton of The Denver Post on how the Nuggets will try to slow Chris Paul:

“We have to take away his special minutes, those moments when he dominates because of his skills,” Karl said. “The more questions we can bring to his head, the small doubts, the better we’ll be. He’s going to have his double-doubles, but then it becomes how many turnovers does he have, what’s their shooting percentage, how is he getting the other guys involved?”…

“He and (Utah’s) Deron Williams are probably in the top five in terms of decision-making per game,” Karl said. “I don’t know of anybody who runs as many pick-and-rolls as they do, almost 60 percent of the time. And all the different kinds that can be run . . . you don’t have to have specific calls with Paul, he just does it all on his own.”

Perhaps one way to measure how good Paul is:

By his third season, Chauncey Billups, the Nuggets’ all-star guard, was playing with his third NBA team. In his fourth season, he started just 33 games, averaging 9.3 points, 2.1 rebounds and 3.4 assists a game.

It wasn’t until the next season, Billups said, that he finally felt comfortable with being an NBA point guard, which many feel is about the right timetable for becoming proficient at the position. Now in his 12th year, Billups and his teammates will have to slow down a player who has obliterated the conventional learning curve.

Also in The Denver Post, the Nuggets are saying teamwork will be the key:

“When we pass the basketball, we are good,” Nuggets coach George Karl said. “When we are selfish with the basketball, hold the basketball, not making good decisions, offensively, there’s a frustration that we have to stay away from.”

The No. 2-seeded Nuggets are 35-6 when they tally 22 or more assists, and 30-2 in their final 32 games with 22-plus. And while we’re at it, they are 8-2 when they get 30 or more.

A note from the bottom of that same article:

NBA commissioner David Stern will be in attendance tonight.

At last, a feature-length article on Byron Scott’s wardrobe. That’s the key to the Hornets-Nuggets series right there. Excerpts:

(Scott) strides the court’s perimeter in a custom suit and steely expression. He rarely yells. Smiles only on occasion. Stands with his arms crossed in a posture that shows off the impeccable drape of Italian wool on his lean, six-foot-four-inch, 215-pound frame.

His ties, shirts and suits are as serious as his demeanor, well-coordinated but quiet. No oversized pinstripes. No windowpane shirts. No bright colors, though he does occasionally veer beyond blacks and navys to olives and camels.

On game day, Scott’s only visible jewelry is a gold wedding ring and a WWJD band around his right wrist.

It’s a style that scores, but sartorially speaking, it’s not a hang-from-the-rim slam dunk, but a fundamentally sound pull-up jumper — substantial, elegant, not braggadocios.

“Byron Scott reminds me of my junior high school principal, if my principal had been really well dressed and handsome,” said Adam Rapoport, style editor for GQ magazine. “There’s no question who’s in charge. He’s the boss. He’s the man. He’s dapper, without being flashy; subdued without being boring.”…

Before games, the coach has a ritual. If at home, he eats lunch prepared by his wife, then takes a nap. Anita Scott picks out his shirt and tie, matching his chosen suit. The coach relaxes, listening to his iPod filled with Anita Baker, Frankie Beverly and Maze, Luther Vandross.

He then grabs the iron.

“Even on the road, on game day, I iron. I can’t have wrinkles,” the coach said with a smile.

From the Hornets-Nuggets blogger faceoff over at Dime Magazine:

(Sarah Tolscer, HornetsHype🙂
David West and Kenyon Martin will get T-ed up in this series. Multiple times. Both teams are prone to emotional breakdowns, but the Nuggets probably slightly more so. The Hornets’ magic formula is David West + Chris Paul + one outside shooter need to be on. Whether this shooter is Peja Stojakovic (who shot 50% from 3 against Denver this year, but is in a slump right now), Rasual Butler, or James Posey, it’s just crucial that it happens.

(Nick Sclafani, NuggDoctor🙂
As you well know it came down to the last game of the season to see who the Nuggets would play in the first round of the playoffs. I honestly think the Mavs would have been an easier first round match up. I say this because I am scared of one man – Chris Paul. He has the ability to change games and put his whole team on his back… I see us having a bit of an issue with New Orleans but nothing serious enough to see us losing in the 1st round. I am predicting the Nuggets beat the Hornets in six games…seven is a stretch but six and we move onto the next round.

David Ramsey, Colorado Springs Gazette:

Yes, the Hornets boast Chris Paul, the best point guard living on our planet. Yes, David West is a superb sidekick.

Still, the Nuggets are the superior team. They can contain Paul and West. They should win.

They have more depth. Karl’s team goes 10-deep.

They have more experience. Billups wears a title ring, and Kenyon Martin twice played in the NBA Finals.

They have home-court advantage. Remember, the Boston Celtics won last season’s title despite losing nine of 12 road playoff games. They won 11 of 12 at home. That’s quite an advantage.

Quick hitters:

P.M. Updates:

Posted at 2:00 p.m. Central.

Something to think about for starters: There were four playoff games yesterday. The home team won just one of them.

Roundball Mining Company has more video scouting reports, this first one entitled “Kenyon Martin Defending David West.” Words from that post:

Kenyon is far from an infallible defensive player, but a player like David West is right in his wheel house.  The players Kenyon struggles with are ones who are either heavier or taller than him.  Size wise both players are listed at 6’ 9” and 240 pounds and Kenyon is certainly capable of dealing with anything West can bring to the table.

Even so West will get his points.  Despite not being blessed with explosive athleticism West is still a very good scorer.  He is not a player you think of as taking you down to the block and abuse you, but if you do not respect his touch around the rim he can embarrass you.  West is also a capable driver and will utilize spin moves and pump fakes to get a clear shot at the rim.  However, his most effective weapon is his jumper.  West can kill you without ever setting foot in the lane and that makes him a difficult cover.

The other video scouting report from Roundball MC today is entitled “Defending Chris Paul and the Pick and Roll.” More words from Jeremy Wagner:

The Nuggets seemed to get better and better at defending Chris Paul as the season wore on.  In the final meeting between the two teams Denver forced Paul into six turnovers thanks to an aggressive trapping scheme.  However, it is important to note that the Hornets were playing without Peja Stojakovic and Tyson Chandler.  Trapping Paul will not be as easy with Chandler diving down the lane and Peja spotted up on the weak side. 

Denver will need to employ more than one scheme as Paul will be able to solve anything they throw at him eventually.  Look for the Nuggets to trap, to surround Paul with a soft umbrella of help designed to keep him out of the lane and even to switch.  In an interview on Friday with 1510 AM George Karl said the coaching staff had considered starting Melo or Kenyon on Paul.  By starting with a mismatch they can then switch and then have everyone matched up correctly.  Of course, in that situation my response would be to skip the pick and roll and exploit the mismatch.  I imagine someone like Chris Paul would figure that out as well.  However, in watching film from the previous matchups whenever the Nuggets switched Paul would almost exclusively pass off to the screener.  I wonder if he will be so passive in the playoffs.

Watching that last clip at Roundball MC, I think Nuggets fans might be interested in reading the following post to get a better idea of what Chris Paul may do coming off a pick: How Paul Owns You: The Free-Throw Line Seal.

Nick Sclafani of The Nugg Doctor delivers what’s likely to be a controversial series preview. In it he gives Chauncey Billups the edge over Chris Paul, calls Peja Stojakovic “one of the NBA’s weakest one-on-one defenders,” and refers to Antonio Daniels as “a shoot-first guard.” Here’s Sclafani’s comparison of Paul and Billups:

Everyone in the free world is saying that Chris Paul gives the Hornets the advantage in the head-to-head match of these two team’s point guards. But, and while the rest of the country bromances over Paul and his otherworldly stats, dreamy eyes, and competitive instincts, I’m here to tell you that what Chauncey doesn’t put in the box score actually gives him, and the Nuggets, the advantage overall.

Yeah, I just said it! Advantage – Nuggets. And here’s why.

It’s no secret that Chris Paul is going to get his. He did all year long against everyone in the league. He’s as quick as a water bug, a phenomenal passer, and a magician with the basketball off the dribble. Hell, he’s my favorite player outside of the Mile High City and for good reasons a plenty. But, there is, and I’ll repeat that again, there is NO point guard in this league as of this very moment that implements HIS team’s strategy better than Chauncey Billups. I’ll even go a step farther and say that no point guard in the league has a better understanding of the game within the game. Chauncey is like Deep Blue when it comes down to playing the chess game that is an NBA playoff series. He puts his pieces in the best possible position to take out the opposition and not many have primped their mates to as much success as Mr. Big Shot has all year long.

So, think about the point guard match-up like this: CP3 may be as explosive as Mike Tyson in his heyday, but Chauncey is akin to manager Don King; No one’s getting paid until Chauncey says so and you can take that to the bank.

Denver Stiffs notes that George Karl still hasn’t won over the Nuggets’ fans and media:

I’m bringing this up because on the eve of the Nuggets first opening round playoff home game in 21 years at the conclusion of a fantastic 54-win season, there’s still a huge anti-Karl contingency within Nuggets Nation, fair or not. And it’s not just in the comments on this blog or among the fans I speak to directly that you see and hear it. You can hear it on local sports radio whenever the Nuggets are discussed, hear it among the fans at Pepsi Center and see it in the comments of almost every game recap or editorial in the Denver Post.

And it’s not just the fans who remain Karl’s biggest skeptics.

The Denver Post’s Mark Kiszla… recently wrote:

“While Stan Van Gundy of Orlando and Rick Adelman of Houston are deserving candidates, the real NBA coach of the year is from Denver, if you’re asking me. No, not George Karl. It was Billups who installed a brain on this team…”

And ESPN.com’s Bill Simmons when discussing Billups’ MVP candidacy, wrote:

“He helped a hopelessly dysfunctional team – yes, I’m including the coach – find common ground, almost like ‘Supernanny’…”

And on Thursday’s version of The Sports Guys on 104.3 The Fan, Sandy Clough responded to a caller asking about Karl’s future should (god forbid) the Nuggets (in the most unlikely scenario) lose to the Hornets by saying that it depends on how the Nuggets play and how many games it takes before losing.

The point is that Karl – in spite of those 54 wins – is still on thin ice…

A Hornets-Nuggets series preview from SLAM Online, delivered as only the GreyTone duo can. Pieces:

Aggrey Sam: I wonder if Mo Pete has any vet mojo left. It would be nice if Lord Byron let Julian Wright loose like last season, but I think this season has proved that last year was special, no matter how much Hornets fans would like to live in the past. Actually, the buzz (no pun intended) around the city about CP and the Bees in general, seems to have faded. Not to beat a dead horse, but this all started when they didn’t re-up Pargo, last year’s playoff hero. His production off the pine would have been very welcome. Where have you gone, Mike James and Bonzi Wells?…

Toney Blare: I think Chauncey is probably the key, but I wonder if he’s all that hungry. We know Chris is, but whether anyone besides West can put the ball in the basket, we’ll have to wait and see. Chauncey’s had a great year and I guess experts will expect him to post Chris up, but Paul’s a prince among thieves. I’m not worried…

AS: When I said N.O. needs to blow this thing up, Byron wasn’t excluded. He actually should be forced to stick around for the rebuilding process to see if he can actually coach. I think Byron and Karl are in the same, but you’re right–Denver just has more options. Outside of Posey, who on the Hornets can make a comparable impact to Linas Kleiza, Birdman, even an energy guy like Renaldo Balkman or steady vets like Dahntay Jones and Anthony Carter?

TB: Altitude/Attitude: as others have noted, this series involves a difference in 5,280 feet between the two cities. I’ve made that trip before and it was no joke. Other contrasts include: Jon Benet Ramsay/Hurricane Katrina, John Denver/Dr. John, Coors/Hurricanes, the Rockies/the Mississippi, Columbine/that wild Mardi Gras parade shooting this year with the dudes wearing house arrest bracelets, what?! Anyway, attitude is another interesting subplot, easily illustrated by K-Mart vs. D-West. One will touch your face, the other wears red kiss marks on his neck. Wait…

TB: Bees in seven.

AS: I’m with you, for no other reason than CP. They probably shouldn’t win and won’t deserve to win, but Karl is a choke artist and is smelling himself right now, while Byron knows enough to leave Chris alone. Chauncey thinks the game like no other, but Chris is close and I think he can will N.O. to three wins (they can steal one in Denver; I don’t see the altitude affecting him) and get enough from West and Co. to win another at home.

Quick hitter:

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