Hornets vs. Nuggets: Monday News Wrap

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Published: April 27, 2009

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

A.M. Updates:

Chris Dempsey, The Denver Post:

The direction this Nuggets-Hornets first-round series is headed can best be described using a Clubber Lang line from “Rocky III.”

He was asked his prediction for his rematch against Rocky.

“My prediction?” Mr. T’s character said. “Pain!”

The Hornets are warming up to the pain. It just took some time.

Brett Martel, Associated Press (yahoo.com):

Scott said the eight-man rotation “worked pretty good for us and it’s obviously something I’ll probably do tomorrow.”

“Sean and Posey played fantastic,” Scott continued. “AD did a real good of playing alongside CP. CP might not get any more rest. There’s no telling. At least with AD in there, I can take (Paul) off the ball where he can rest a little bit more on the offensive end. He doesn’t have to take all the pounding and try to run the offense and score as well.”…

“We feel like he has to play that many minutes for them to have a shot,” said Billups, who considers Paul a good friend. “His responsibility for his team is probably more than anybody’s in the league. We have to try to take advantage of him on the other end of the court, make him defend and try to wear him down a little bit.”

After Denver won the opening two games in lopsided fashion at home, Nuggets coach George Karl warned that his team should not take its series lead for granted. The Hornets may be hurting and lacking depth, he said, but they remain a threat as long as Paul is playing well.

“I’m hoping fatigue is a factor with him, but he has a little bit of a Superman makeup,” Karl said. “I’m not saying he is Superman, but he’s in that area of a Kobe Bryant, those special athletes who seemingly do whatever’s asked for them.”

John Reid, New Orleans Times-Picayune:

After losing the first two games of their best-of-seven series, the Hornets returned home Saturday and finally did some bullying of their own for a 95-93 win in Game 3.

Scott expects to see the same physical play from his team tonight in Game 4 at the New Orleans Arena.

“It’s playoff basketball, and each game is probably going to be more physical,” Scott said. “I think our guys are starting to get used to it. I think the first game, we were a little surprised.”

“Denver has never been known as a physical basketball team. They have been a finesse, up-and-down team for a number of years. They changed their philosophy with Chauncey (Billups) coming over.”…

Posey had an MRI exam on his sprained right knee Sunday morning, but he’s expected to play tonight…

“We got to be a man, stand tall and stand up,” Scott said. “We still have to be in an attack mode. We still have to look to drive and get to the basket.

“Our guys are taking their bumps and bruises, but they are just getting up and playing basketball. They are not complaining. They know this is how it’s going to be. That’s what I’m happy about.”

Benjamin Hochman and Chris Dempsey, The Denver Post:

Carmelo Anthony’s right-elbow contusion is “just a nasty bruise,” according to trainer Jim Gillen, and Anthony said he will “be ready to go” in tonight’s Game 4 against the Hornets.

Anthony injured the elbow in Game 3 but played through the pain en route to 25 points. On Sunday, he received treatment, including ultrasound on his elbow, which was bruised on the radial head, Gillen said.

“I got a couple treatments,” Anthony said. “I feel pretty good, though. I’ll be ready to go.”…

Forward James Posey will play the remainder of the series trying not to aggravate a sprained right knee.

He suffered the injury in Game 3 and had an MRI on Sunday morning. He was cleared to play tonight.

Also, center Tyson Chandler remains hampered by an ankle injury.

“I can’t cut the way I want to,” Chandler said. “I can’t sprint the way I want to. I can’t even jump the way I want to. My timing is off. But the thing I can do is just make my presence felt out there.”

New Orleans Times-Picayune:

Sean Marks scored eight points and grabbed six rebounds for career playoffs highs in Game 3. Before Sunday’s practice, more than 15 reporters surrounded Marks, which drew laughs from his teammates because he was garnering attention he doesn’t normally draw.

At The Hive with “a couple of strategies that worked for the Hornets in Game 3 that they must replicate on offense and defense to even the series tonight.” Excerpts:

– Getting to the line was THE key for the Hornets in Game 3. After posting meager foul shots/field goal rates of 21.6% and 21.8% in Denver, the Hornets just about doubled that at 40.6% on Saturday.

– New Orleans has been dreadful with taking care of the ball this series. Their turnover rates of 17.6%, 17.4%, and 16.4% dwarf their terrific 12.5% rate during the regular season. While Denver was a stellar at forcing turnovers during the season, many of the Hornet turnovers this series are just mental errors.

– At first glimpse, (Carmelo Anthony) had a decent game with 25 points. A second look reveals that he shot 10-24. A third look reveals that he shot 10-24 while being single covered by Peja Stojakovic. The reason? Melo guards himself by settling. He’s an all-world type player that can drive and dunk on elite defenders; only Wade and LBJ take it to the hole harder.  And yet he’s settled for the fadeaway 20 footer over Peja for three games now.

– The defensive key that stands out from Game 3 is Billups’ 3-10 shooting. I would contend that field goal defense wasn’t the best thing the Hornets did to keep CB under wraps though. Rather, it was ball denial after the ball went to someone else. When an entry pass was tossed to a Martin or Nene postup, the Hornets made sure that Billups or other guards couldn’t get the ball back.

Jeremy Wagner, Roundball Mining Company:

I thought the Nuggets would struggle to defend the pick and roll if the Hornets ran it with Nene’s man setting the screen every time. (In Game 3), when Nene was on the floor the Hornets were doing exactly that. That affected the Nuggets’ defense in three big ways. First of all, Nene was almost exclusively guarding Tyson Chandler or Sean Marks and those two are the best New Orleans has at rolling to the basket after setting the screen requiring the Nuggets to suck into the paint.

Secondly, it reduced their dependence on David West. As I mentioned after game two the Hornets were force feeding West instead of working to get the ball to their hot shooters. By setting fewer screens with West it allowed him to either spot up or attack the glass (he pulled down three offensive boards in game three after pulling down only one in each of the first two games) and also  and allowed Paul to spread the ball around more and find players like Posey in the first half and Butler in the second who were hitting their shots. Thirdly running the pick and roll at Nene forced Nene to try to contain Paul and he has proven to be the worst Nuggets big man at keeping Paul out of the paint. Also, four of Nene’s six fouls were a result of defending the pick and roll. Two were called when he tried to dislodge the screener and two were instances where Paul drove into his body…

Anthony Carter does not have a role in this series.  Dahntay Jones and Chauncey are doing fine on Paul. Over the previous two games I have thought Carter’s defense has been very poor. We have seen players out of control on offense, but Carter has been out of control on defense. He is constantly getting out of position going for steals and when he runs at a shooter instead of closing out and remaining in the play he goes flying past and takes himself out of the play. Chauncey should be playing 38-40 minutes and J.R. can fill in the rest at point guard. At this point Carter is not adding anything to the team and in fact is bringing them down.

Benjamin Hochman, The Denver Post:

Trailing 2-1 in the series, the Hornets are shooting 43.9 percent from 3-point range, third-best of any playoff team. And Rasual Butler, an overlooked facet in this series, is 9-for-12 from beyond the arc.

“I honestly think that if they don’t hurt us with the 3-ball, I just don’t think they can beat us, I really don’t,” Nuggets guard Chauncey Billups said. “They have some good players that can really get going, but if they don’t get the 3-ball going, with our defense and personnel, we’ve got good enough defenders to beat them with them taking 2s.”…

But the song remains the same — get Paul out of his rhythm or the Hornets are back in this series.

“It’s hard because he’s probably the best in the league at breaking down the defense, getting in the teeth of the defense,” said Billups, Paul’s point guard counterpart. “And ever since you were a little kid, you were taught not to give teams layups, so once he breaks down the ‘D,’ instincts tell you (stop that), and when you do that, he’s good enough to know who’s more aggressive with help defense, and he’ll kick it out to the shooter.”

Mark Kiszla, The Denver Post:

“I’m OK,” Nene insists, less than 24 hours after an NBA playoff loss to New Orleans in which his ugly line in the boxscore was: six fouls, two points, one scowl. “I’m OK.”

Trouble is: We’re not buying a single word he’s saying. Nene is a good man but a lousy liar.

So the 6-foot-11 Nuggets center peels back a stoic’s mask, then spills the truth about his mood.

“Believe me, I’m not really OK. I’m talking about the mental. It’s all mental for me,” admits Nene, revealing his frustration as he extended a soft fist bump as a form of apology. “When you prepare yourself, and the right things don’t happen, you get mad.”…

“I think the stress of Nene not being involved offensively broke his confidence a little bit defensively. He’s still an effective player. But he goes up the list of my priorities in helping him deal with it,” Denver coach George Karl says.

“We might be defining a learning curve of playoff basketball. How many playoff series has Nene played, I mean where he had to be a 35-minute-per-game player? Maybe none. This might be the first time.”…

Unless you’re counting the sharp, macho tongue of Hornets coach Byron Scott, there is a distinct absence of malice to the confrontations in this series. In fact, after Game 3, New Orleans and Denver players exchanged hugs in the arena hallway like long-lost brothers, while local restaurant legend Emeril Lagasse invited anybody within earshot to dinner.

Jonathan Abrams, New York Times:

Denver Nuggets Coach George Karl absolved Bulls Coach Vinny Del Negro of his miscalculations when he showed that a veteran coach could make the same gaffes as a rookie.

Karl, who has 148 playoff games under his belt, ran out of timeouts Saturday at the end of a 95-93 loss to the New Orleans Hornets in Game 3 of their best-of-seven Western Conference first-round series. The Nuggets had no timeouts remaining when Hornets forward James Posey missed the second of two free throws with three seconds left. Denver forward Carmelo Anthony grabbed the rebound and heaved a 40-foot prayer that went unanswered, enabling the Hornets to win their first game of the series.

Quick hitter:

P.M. Updates:

Posted at 12:46 p.m. Central.

In the Times-Picayune, John Reid reports that Chris Paul has a sore right knee but expects to play tonight:

Hornets point guard Chris Paul wore a protective sleeve over his right knee and walked with a slight limp before the start of Monday’s shootaround at the New Orleans Arena.

But Paul said he expects to play the entire game tonight against Denver Nuggets, who hold a 2-1 lead in their best-of-seven series.

Paul suffered a sore knee after J.R. Smith collided into him during the third quarter in Saturday’s game won by the Hornets’ 95-93. Paul scored a game-high 32 points and dished 12 assists after playing 46 minutes.

“To be honest once he warms up and the adrenaline is flowing, it probably won’t be a problem at all,” Coach Byron Scott said. “I think after the game is when he will start feeling it more. When you get into the heat of the moment and start playing, you will forget about all the little aches and pains.”

Chris Marlowe, Nuggets.com:

…here’s my advice to Nene — when you get it, shoot it! Shoot, shoot, shoot, shoot, shoot it!!!!! I’ve said all season long that Nene is the one Nugget that needs to be MORE selfish. Don’t look for cutters, no feeds to teammates at the three-point line, drive it in and take it up big man! Initiate contact, create three-point opportunities, and get Tyson Chandler in foul trouble.

After averaging nearly six blocks a game during the regular season, the Nuggets have slipped to just 4.33 in the playoffs. I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s tough to block a lot of shots against New Orleans. Usually Hornets guard Chris Paul has the ball in his hands for most of the possession. When he finally drives, he always seems to make the right decision what to do with the ball. If Andersen comes over for the block, Paul dishes to Chandler or David West for the dunk. If the lane is open, Paul simply cruises in for the lay-up. Nobody else on the Hornets drives to the hoop—thus not many shots available to block.

Mike Moreau of Scouts Inc. previews Game 4 over at ESPN.com:

– With Carmelo Anthony playing tight on Stojakovic, Peja is not quick enough to get rid of him on a cut or go backdoor. If they can’t free Stojakovic with screening action, New Orleans may just station him in the corner in Game 4 and let him snipe if Anthony cheats to help.

– Marks gives energy and hustle, something Tyson Chandler does not, either because of his injury or by conscious decision. The Hornets won’t run any plays for Marks, but he just makes plays and brings the crowd to life — the New Orleans answer to The Birdman. Expect Marks and Posey to play extended roles in Game 4.

– In the half court, Anthony can blow by Stojakovic at will, but must attack the middle to take full advantage of this matchup. He bails Peja out when he goes baseline and turns back to the middle, taking a tougher shot with help coming at him… Look for Denver to give him more catches at the elbow and at the top of the floor in Game 4 to give him more room to work. They also will run some screening action around the foul line to pop him to the wing, hoping to get a mismatch in a switch.

– Another concern for Denver was their wretched transition defense, giving up layups and uncontested shots to Stojakovic, Butler, Paul and West. New Orleans is clearly looking to run more, catching the Nuggets crashing the offensive boards and jogging back… Denver must retreat with more urgency in Game 4, finding Paul early and protecting the rim. Giving up 22 fast-break points to one of the slowest-paced teams in the league is inexcusable.

– The Nuggets took their foot off the accelerator in Game 3 and allowed the Hornets to get back in this series. Denver must come out running in Game 4, and the Hornets will play with a newfound confidence and sense of urgency as they try to tie the series. Expect a close game, a raucous crowd and some flaring tempers in this one.

Prediction: Hornets win Game 4

Michael Roberts, The Latest Word:

Strangely, the Nuggets’ 95-93 loss to the New Orleans Hornets on Saturday afternoon made me more, not less, optimistic that the team will take the series. My rationale:

The Nugs blew a huge first quarter lead, as they’ve done innumerable times in recent years — but instead of going quietly, they clawed their way back late in the fourth quarter and actually had a chance to win; Chris Paul can’t play any better than he did during the game, and neither can he get any more calls; Chauncey Billups and J.R. Smith can’t be any colder from a shooting perspective; and Carmelo Anthony, who wound up with 25 points, still hasn’t played his best game. Bottom line: This was the Hornets’ chance to make a statement, and that statement was: “Even when we’ve got everything going for us, we can barely beat these guys.”

(“Everything going” for the Hornets apparently includes having both West and Peja ice cold, starting and finishing the game with a whimper, and having your starting center playing on one leg.)

And finally, here’s the famous video that was played at New Orleans Arena during Game 3:

Quick hitters:

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