Hornets vs. Nuggets: Saturday News Wrap

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Published: April 25, 2009

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

With Game 3 tipping at noon Central today, we’ll just do one batch of updates this time. But first, the final few Hornets walls from Dariusz:

You can find all the walls from this series (dark and light for every player) in our wallpaper vault.

Now, on to the news…

Jeremy Wagner, Roundball Mining Company:

Now the real work starts.  As George Karl has pointed out approximately 236 times since the end of game two a playoff series does not start until someone wins on the road.  A win today in New Orleans would end the competitive portion of the series.  Heading into this postseason there have been 85 instances of a team taking a 3-0 lead in a seven game series.  Those teams have won 85 times.  Only nine of those 85 games have made it to game six and only three of those teams won game six to force game seven…

Reader Pedro from Brazil (the Internet sure gets around doesn’t it?) crunched some numbers and figured out that between his 67 points and 12 assists Billups has accounted for 92 of Denver’s 221 points in the series which equates to 41.6%.  That is pretty impressive, but when you look at his numbers for when he is on the court it gets even better.  The Nuggets have scored 178 points with Chauncey on the floor and his production has accounted for 51.7% of those 178 points.  By comparison LeBron James accounted for 51.9% of Cleveland’s points when he was on the floor (I am assuming that is a regular season number, but it might be just for the playoffs) so you can see Chauncey’s first two games of the post season are MVP caliber.

I have somewhat similar numbers for Paul, but they are based on field goals instead of points so it does not take into account three point shots.  This season Chris Paul either scored or assisted on 51.3% of the Hornets’ field goals.  That is the third highest total ever behind John Stockton’s 51.6% in 1990-91 and Nate Archibald’s record 53.5% in 1972-73.  Paul has been “struggling” in the playoffs, but he has still either scored or assisted on a whopping 57.1% of the Hornets’ field goals.  Perhaps instead of ripping on Paul’s performance we should be impressed that he is doing so well considering how strong the Nuggets have been on the defensive end.

Jim Eichenhofer at Hornets.com yesterday:

Without providing specifics, Hornets fifth-year coach Byron Scott said after today’s practice that he is planning to lessen the number of reserves who receive playing time in Game 3. New Orleans has essentially used a 10-man rotation in the first two games.

“I’ve got to cut down our rotation,” Scott told the media at the Alario Center. “It will probably be seven or eight guys (who play), at the most. I’ve got to keep rotating those guys in and out so they stay fresh.”…

A few alarming stats: Since March 11, Denver has scored 100 points or more in 18 of its 19 games. The only time Denver did not reach 100 points over the past six weeks was April 15 at Portland – a game that could be thrown out of the discussion, because the Nuggets rested key players.
During that same six-week timeframe, New Orleans has reached the 100-point mark only six times. The Hornets have scored more than 104 points only once in the last 21 games, a number that Nuggets have reached 15 times in their last 19 outings.

Chris Dempsey, The Denver Post:

New Orleans coach Byron Scott said he is not worried about David West’s comments after Game 2, when the star forward said the Hornets were “predictable” on offense.

“I think we’re becoming too predictable,” West said in the locker room after Wednesday’s game. “They know what we’re going to do.”…

“I am I surprised? Not really. Not really,” Scott said. “When you get a little frustrated, you say some things that probably after you look at it, wish you didn’t say or didn’t really mean or was taken out of context. But am I worried about it? No. Not at all.”

John DeShazier, New Orleans Times-Picayune:

…the Hornets need (Chris Paul) to be better than 17.5 points and 12 assists per game, the numbers he has posted in their two losses.

Sure, those are solid numbers. They’d be outstanding if they were listed next to any point guard’s name other than Paul’s. But for Paul, in this series, where Billups has scored 67 points and hasn’t committed a turnover while Paul has committed nine, it simply isn’t enough.

That’s the reality; his raised level of play, the necessity.

The guy who is more “super” than “man” needs to conjure some “super” for the Hornets, which didn’t really even compete against Denver on the road.

“I don’t think he’s off track,” Hornets Coach Byron Scott said. “I just think he has to be a little more aggressive.”

John Reid, New Orleans Times-Picayune:

Entering today’s Game 3 of New Orleans’ first-round playoff series against Denver, Posey, considered the team’s top perimeter defender, doesn’t have a steal or block.

But Coach Byron Scott has no complaints, although Posey has made only 4-of-13 field goals in the series.

In Denver’s 29-point blowout win in Game 1 last Sunday, Posey was 1-of-6 for two points, but helped limit Nuggets forward Carmelo Anthony to 13 points on 4-of-13 shooting. In Wednesday’s 108-93 loss, Posey was more assertive, scoring 12 points and grabbing eight rebounds.

“I thought the first game he played OK,” Scott said. “I thought the second game he played really well. He’d probably see more minutes (for Game 3).”…

With Denver guard Chauncey Billups averaging 33.5 points in the series, Scott said the Hornets made adjustments during Friday’s practice to defend him better.

“We’ll see if that can help us a little bit. Like I said, Chauncey has had two awesome basketball games, and he’s also got to the free-throw line 20 times,” Scott said. “We got to do a better job of guarding him without fouling. He’s one of the smartest players in the league. When he gets close to the goal, he gets aggressive.”

Benjamin Hochman, The Denver Post:

“I have a lot of favorite stories on this team,” coach George Karl said, “and the one that’s never written is A.C.”

That’s Anthony Carter, the workmanlike reserve guard who averaged 4.7 assists this season, most of any NBA player with fewer than 24 minutes per game (Carter averaged 22.9).

“We cut the guy a few years ago (in 2006),” Karl said. “Probably made our team in training camp, couldn’t keep him because of money, goes to Europe, has kind of a bad experience, comes back, we play him in the fifth game of the playoffs (in 2007) and we say: ‘We got to sign him.’ And we’re betting on a 32-year-old point guard. And we got a great year in return (in 2007-08).”

Lots of good stuff in this George Shinn  Q&A with the Times-Picayune. A few excerpts:

Given the expectations of this season, how would you characterize your feelings if your team went out after one round?

Wow, that’s a situation, obviously I realize it can happen, but I’d be very disappointed. Like I said, I will always be disappointed at this stage in my career and my life unless we get a championship. That’s what we’re trying to do every year, and we’ll continue to try to improve. We’ve got to do that this summer. We’ve got to have a very busy summer. We’ll look at every avenue to improve. We’ve invested in this team over the years. Even before we had the ticket support we have today, we were still being aggressive and trying to build this club.

You’ve spoken about the fan support. Are you satisfied with the way that has gone this year?

It’s been incredible. I’ve been doing this over 20 years. We’ve been in three cities (including Charlotte, N.C., and Oklahoma City), and I’m the happiest I’ve been in the 20-plus years right here. The fans have been wonderful. They have embraced us. There’ve been times where I’ve felt I could just scream at our team, and our fans have not given up. They haven’t been ugly. They’ve been wonderful and supportive.

You signed Byron Scott to a contract extension last offseason. How do you assess the job Byron Scott has done this year, and is his job safe for another year?

That’s a loaded question. I haven’t sat down with all my basketball people to go through all those things. A lot of teams in this league would say they’re very happy to have won 49 games. What has happened with the fact we’ve had injuries the way we have and our coaching staff has won 49 games is good. I can’t complain because we haven’t had our team at full strength. Everyone will be analyzed and evaluated in the offseason. I’m analyzed every day. During the summer, we have to go back, dissect and try to make the best, most intelligent decisions we can to move forward. That’s what we plan to do.

Denver Stiffs:

I don’t have hard data handy, but it seems to me that when a team loses a seven-game series in five games – as I believe the Hornets will – they often win Game 3 on their home floor. Nuggets fans are familiar with this, as we saw the Nuggets win Game 3 against the Timberwolves and the Clippers at the Pepsi Center in 2004 and 2006, respectively. We even saw this last night when the Jazz beat the Lakers in Game 3 at Utah.

Why does this happen? It’s pretty obvious. The home team, being down 2-0, has two games worth of “what not to do” film to improve off of, they get energized by their home crowd and the team up 2-0 doesn’t make major adjustments, figuring what they’ve been doing has worked so far.

My hunch is that the same thing will happen to the Nuggets in New Orleans on Saturday, but it doesn’t have to be this way.

Chris Dempsey, The Denver Post:

“We got to make Chauncey a little more uncomfortable,” forward David West said. “We were pleased with the way we defended (Carmelo Anthony) the first couple of games, but Chauncey is just too comfortable. He’s not playing under duress at any point in the game. There will be a few changes in terms of how we’re going to deal with Chauncey.”…

“I think the fact that we have 34 turnovers is the most unnerving part, because we have been one of the best teams all season long as far as taking care of the basketball,” Scott said. “So one of our biggest concerns was talking to our guys about making sure we take care of the ball and get better possessions, and if we do that then we feel we’ll be OK. But the defensive part hasn’t been that big of a problem.”

Scott did acknowledge Billups has become a concern worth addressing. Scott’s biggest issue was Billups going to the free-throw line 19 times in the first two games (and he’s made all of them).

“We have to do a better job of guarding him without fouling him as well,” Scott said. “From a defensive standpoint, their sets aren’t the things that are really killing us.”

Jimmy Smith, New Orleans Times-Picayune:

“I don’t think (the Nuggets are) doing anything special,” West said. “I think they are actually sticking to what they do. Usually teams switch or have a few different ways of defending us. They’re just sticking to their game plan. That’s why we’re able to hang with them for two or three quarters, then we break. They’re doing a good job sticking to what they do.

“I think they’re staying attached. They’re not helping, or over-helping or things like that. We’re not getting the kind of looks that we’re used to getting. And they’re doing a good job one-on-one defensively. Even in the pick and roll, they’re not letting C.P. get angles and get a lot of room to operate.”

Denver Coach George Karl anticipates the Hornets will come out inspired today at home and with new wrinkles to turn the momentum of the series.

“I think they are going to be a little more physical at their place,” Karl said. “Coach Scott is obviously upset with the physicalness of the game. We have a lot of work to do. I am believer that nothing really happens until you lose a home playoff game.”…

“I think we’ve made some very ill-advised passes,” Scott said. “And the other thing is we’ve got to respect their athleticism. I think some of the passes we’ve made against teams we figure we can get through, but they do a real good job of anticipating and getting there. So we’ve got to do a better job of making sure when we make those passes, they’re on the money.

“I thought the last game we did exactly what I talked about doing as far as standing up and being accountable. We kept our heads, which is something we’re going to have to do again tomorrow. Their tactics, or whatever you want to call it, I don’t think really frustrated our guys. Just looking at film, we’re still getting great opportunities and great looks. It’s just a matter of knocking them down on a consistent basis. And playing harder for longer periods of time. Against this team, with the offensive firepower that they have, you can’t have the lulls we’ve had in every game so far.”…

“We’re going to do what we do. This is what got us to 56 wins last year and got us 49 this year. It’s frustrating. We know we take care of the ball better than we have the first two games. We know we’re a better offensive team and a better defensive team than the first two games. We have another opportunity. That’s how you look at it. We have an opportunity to get this thing to 2 to 1.

“It can be done.”

Also from Jimmy Smith, reporting on yesterday’s practice:

Scott said center Tyson Chandler, who has played just three games since returning from a sprained left ankle that sidelined him more than a month, is holding up fairly well.

“He’s still basically playing on one leg or one and a half,” Scott said. “But he’s a warrior. You’ve got to give him a lot of credit. He’s a warrior. He played a pretty good game last game, and in the second half with about six minutes left, you could see him noticeably limping.

“And that worried me, but he says he feels a whole lot better today. Tomorrow he’ll feel even better. I will have to watch him closer than anyone else.”

Chris Dempsey, Denver Post Nuggets blog:

“They are a big, strong team. They’ve played like that all year,” Hornets forward David West said. “They haven’t necessarily changed anything in that regard. It’s just the way that they are conditioned to play.”

Kenyon Martin lays down the hard fouls. Chris Andersen rolls through the paint like a bowling ball to rebound and block shots. Chauncey Billups gives extra emphasis when clearing out his path to the rim. Carmelo Anthony battles on the block. The only player seemingly not down with the program is the happy-go-lucky, always smiling, Nene. And even he’s a physical presence when he takes the ball to the rim.

Coach George Karl has said a nasty team is a team crafted in his image. Well, these guys might as well all be wearing Karl Halloween masks. Trust me when I tell you, he’s laughing behind the scenes and telling his guys to keep it up.

Benjamin Hochman, The Denver Post:

(Kenyon) Martin set the tone of this series with a Game 1 slam — not a dunk, but a slam of the Hornets’ superstar guard Paul. In the first half, Denver’s Nene was called for a “cheap foul” on Paul — Martin’s words — in which Nene simply “bumped him.” Well, soon after, the zippy point guard showed up at Martin’s doorstep, so the power forward thwarted Paul’s layup attempt in midair, a frightening moment, but “a playoff foul,” according to Hornets coach Byron Scott, who previously had Martin on his side, back when Scott coached the New Jersey Nets.

“(Paul) has proven he makes his teammates better and impacts the game in a major way,” Martin said. “You have to knock him down, push him down, hold him, grab him, get his mind off of playing basketball as much as you can.”…

“The thing he’s been incredible at is fourth-quarter defense,” Karl said. “I mean, how many games has he been a factor in the fourth quarter? I tell guys all the time: Win games with defensive plays. Well, Kenyon Martin wins games with defensive plays.”…

“Kenyon is a defensive-oriented player and one of the best defenders for a big man in the league,” Billups said. “He has an unbelievable I.Q. for basketball. He knows where to be at all times.”

mW, Hornets Hype:

…I can only come to one conclusion: Morris Peterson was a better starter last year than Rasual Butler is now.  No doubt Rasual is playing well, but I still love Butler as the first guy off the bench, like Bonzi would have done for Mo last year.  Peterson earned his minutes, and has Ws to show for it.  Butler, despite his several dramatic game-winning shots this year, I’m not convinced makes us better…

I believe Byron has what it takes to be a championship coach when it comes to Xs and Os.  But if he can’t figure out who his best players are, then maybe he needs to step away from the game to gain some perspective, and we need a coach who can recognize talent.  After watching every Hornets game in the last two years in some way, shape, or form, as well as various games from around the League, I feel like I’m a pretty good judge of what we have.  We can still win this.  And by “this” I mean everything.   But to start with, we need to take two in Nola and then make this Round 1 series start fresh, before going on to win in 6 or 7.  But if the Hornets don’t do that, Byron should be looking over his shoulder; and, Bower, if he’s smart, should be the guy over that shoulder.

I’m not speaking quietly.  I’m flat out saying it.  If the Hornets don’t win this series, they need a new coach.

A few random stats that came across my desk:

– In NBA history, a team leading 2-0 in a best-of-seven series goes on to win that series 93.5% of the time (203-14)… when the home team wins the first two games of a best-of-seven series, that team goes on to win the series 94.0% of the time (173-11).

– While the Nuggets have made the playoffs in 6 straight seasons, one of the reasons they’ve lost in the first round each year has been their inability to win on the road.  Denver is 2-14 on the road in the postseason since Carmelo Anthony joined the team in 2003-04, having lost each of their last 4 postseason games away from home.

– While George Karl has been one of the best coaches in the NBA over the last few decades, he has not found much success in the postseason.  In addition to not having won a title in any of his 21 full or partial seasons as head coach, Karl has the 2nd-worst win percentage (.435) among the 19 NBA head coaches who have coached at least 100 playoff games.

– Byron Scott is in his fourth postseason as a head coach, second with the Hornets. In his 3 previous playoff appearances, Scott’s teams have always made it past the first round.

– Here’s a look at how Chris Paul has done with the ball in the paint this postseason. He’s passed the ball nearly half the times he’s entered the paint in the first 2 games of the playoffs.

Chris Paul – 2009 Postseason
  Game 1 Game 2
Times in Paint w/Ball 29 24
Times Shot Ball 12 7
Times Passed 11 14
Times Turned it Over 2 1
Times Knocked Down 2 0

And finally, there’s more Shaq talk from Marc Stein over at ESPN.com:

O’Neal’s interest in a return to the NBA territory closest to his LSU roots is even more genuine than we thought. Mitch Lawrence of the New York Daily News wrote recently that O’Neal “thinks” he’s going to New Orleans in a deal headlined by Chandler. I’ve since heard that Shaq was not at all shy about telling Chris Paul what a great arrangement that would be when they were Western Conference teammates at All-Star Weekend.

What we don’t have to date is any firm indication that the teams have even discussed Shaq scenarios…

Both teams are hoping for trades this summer that would save more money than making this sort of deal would allow.

If the Suns ultimately did decide that they were willing to take on Chandler’s contract — which runs one season longer than Shaq’s — that would still require New Orleans to gamble on O’Neal for a season in exchange for the right to shed Chandler’s $13.2 million salary in 2010-11. If those two conditions were realized, there are a couple of trade scenarios that aren’t completely out of the realm of possibility:

1. Chandler, Rasual Butler and Devin Brown (assuming Brown picks up his $1.1 million option for next season) for O’Neal. Such a deal couldn’t happen until after July 1 because Brown is ineligible to be traded until he can pick up the option.

2. The version that makes a trade more even cap-wise for the Hornets: Chandler, Butler and Antonio Daniels for Shaq and Alando Tucker.

Quick hitters:

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