Time to Break the Nuggets

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Published: April 22, 2009

All season long, there have been “big games”.  Games to lock up the playoffs.  Games to determine seeding.  Revenge games to get back at the Magic for their Christmas Day Massacre.  I have tried to avoid calling regular season games big, but I know I haven’t entirely succeeded.

Here’s the thing, though:  tonight’s game is big.  The biggest of the season.  Tonight will tell us if the Hornets we are watching are the ones we saw the last month of the season – tired, uninspired and mediocre – or the ones we loved watching in December and January, all cylinders firing and looking sharp.  I feel the Hornets have to have game 2.  If they don’t win, there is no way they are winning four of their next five games, and the series probably ends in Denver in game five.  If they do take it, I think the Hornets have the advantage, and they may be playing until late May at the very least.  That’s the stakes.

Most people don’t think the Hornets are up to it since the last game – lots of comments like “What will the Hornets do if Carmelo starts firing on all cylinders and JR Smith can knock down some three’s too!  Oh My!”.  “Chauncey Billups is the best Point Guard on the Planet!”.  “How can West contend with Kenyon Martin, the best defender since general Zhang Liao held off 200,000 Wu Soldiers with only 7,000 men of his own!”  Etc., Etc.

Okay, while no one is actually comparing Martin to Zhang Liao(shame on them), the sentiment is there – and though that last game was bad, the reality is the difference between these teams isn’t that big.  West can handle Martin, and has a history of following terrible games with good ones.  Last season he handled Tim Duncan just fine, and if you want to make the case that Kenyon Martin is a better defender than Timmy, more power to you.  If you also want to make the case that Carmelo is suddenly going to explode as a shooter, and as a result the Nuggets are going to improve on their 50% shooting from the field and 52% shooting from downtown, knock yourself out.  Hopefully the Nuggets are thinking the same way and will rely on that.

All the ingredients for a Hornets win are there – they just have to be put together.  The Hornet’s shooters are getting open, the Nuggets weren’t able to stop Paul and West from getting those ten-fifteen foot jumpers they usually put down, and the second unit actually played the Nuggets even when they came in at the start of the second.  It’s also not that likely that Kleiza and Andersen are going to combine for 12 free throw attempts off the bench.  They can win this game, and three others like it.

Now, you might ask, do I think the Hornets will successfully meld all those ingredients and win tonight?

. . .

I prefer not to answer that question.

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