Hornets vs. Nuggets: Thursday News Wrap

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Published: April 30, 2009

Because we’re sadistic, we’ll do one final news wrap before settling into the summer. Before I dive in though, a quick reminder about our Journals section, where any registered user can write and publish feature-length articles. If you have a bunch of thoughts on the Hornets right now, that’s a good place to post them. Here are two recent journal entries worth checking:

A.M. Updates:

Jeremy Wagner in the Daily Dime (#7):

The Denver Nuggets have made NBA history. Never before has a team defeated their opponent by 58 points in the playoffs and gone on to win their series. It must be more difficult than it sounds, just ask the 1955-56 Minneapolis Lakers…

Among the many great storylines for Denver — reaching the second round for the first time in 15 seasons, Chauncey Billups’ arrival and play in the first two games and their vastly improved defense — the biggest story is Carmelo Anthony finally learning how to win in the postseason.

After allowing defenses to take him out of the game year after year he is now changing games with his passing ability — 5.2 assists per game for the series. He repeatedly forced his way into the lane to earn good shots instead of settling for contested jumpers.

Also from Wagner at Roundball Mining Company:

There are plenty of excuses for the New Orleans Hornets, mostly surrounding the health of Chris Paul and Tyson Chandler, who was held out of game five with a bad ankle.  Excuses aside Denver was clearly the best team and a healthy Hornets’ squad would still have had to deal with the defense the Nuggets brought for most of five games. 

We have seen Denver play pressure defense from time to time during the regular season, but never for entire games and never for multiple games in a row.  This team has come alive in the playoffs and they are playing defense that I feel confident saying has never been seen in Denver.  Maybe someone from the ABA days can correct me, but the exceptional teams of the mid 1980’s never locked down like this team has.

From the AP game recap:

The Hornets used a 16-2 spurt to take a 25-16 lead and let some of the air out of the Pepsi Center. But with the Nuggets’ bench players on the court, Denver scored eight electrifying points in a row to recharge the arena.

Still, the Hornets, with Hilton Armstrong starting at center for Chandler (ankle), went toe-to-toe with the Nuggets until Denver’s third-quarter run started the celebration.

It was especially sweet for Billups, who was born and raised in Denver. He came from Detroit in the Allen Iverson trade a week into the season and transformed his beloved Nuggets from an afterthought into the West’s second seed.

“Chauncey is the best thing that happened to Denver,” Paul said. “The mind-set that he’s given this team right now is something that will fuel them in the next round.”…

The average margin of victory in Denver’s four wins was 37.5 points. The Nuggets’ previous best average in a playoff series was 20 in their 3-2 win over San Antonio in the first round in 1984-85.

Jim Armstrong, The Denver Post:

March 25th. New Orleans. That’s when and where the Nuggets grew up.

They had lost two nights earlier in Phoenix, where Nene landed a two-game suspension for elbowing Louis Amundson. They played the Hornets that night and were scheduled to play the Mavericks in Dallas two nights later.

But first, George Karl had a few choice words for them.

“I kind of got angry at them because they weren’t pushing themselves to be what they could be,” Karl said. “That’s what I told them in New Orleans: ‘Gentlemen, you don’t understand the opportunity you have here.” I said in the meeting, ‘OK, the Lakers might be a little bit better than everybody. But no one else is that much better than who we are if we get serious.” I said, ‘When you get old and you throw away opportunity, you’ll be disappointed.’ “

The Nuggets won that night 101-88, then beat the Mavs two nights later 103-101.

“I think that was the turning point,” Karl said. “That’s when we knew that, if we defend, we can win any game we play.”

At Hornets.com, Jim Eichenhofer has player evaluations:

Peja Stojakovic: Started well tonight, but finished 5-for-12, part of a subpar shooting series. He shot 37 percent from the field over the five games and just 31 percent from three-point range. He was overmatched trying to guard Anthony, unable to keep him out of the lane on dribble drives.

David West: His 24-point, nine-rebound outing tonight was the best he played in the series, but he had to be frustrated by the fact that as soon as he got rolling offensively, he started picking up fouls and had to sit. He shot 40 percent from the floor in the series and was repeatedly forced into fadeaways and difficult attempts by Kenyon Martin and the Nuggets’ interior defenders.

Hilton Armstrong: You never really knew what to expect for him over the past couple weeks. He was out of the rotation late in the regular season, then back in it during Game 1 of the playoffs. That theme continued tonight when he was elevated to the starting center role due to Chandler’s absence. Armstrong was mistake-prone early in the game tonight, but followed that up with some very good moments (7 points, 6 rebounds, 1 block) before fouling out in the fourth quarter.

John Henderson, The Denver Post:

This is the year the Nuggets put the “D” back in Denver and Kenyon Martin has always provided much of it. Now that the rest of the Nuggets, with the help of Chauncey Billups’ inspiration, have caught onto Martin’s act, the Nuggets aren’t sitting home after the first round for the first time in 15 years.

“It’s a great feeling,” Martin said. “With the downs since I’ve been here, getting to the playoffs and not being able to advance or taking advantage of the situations that we’ve been in, it’s a great feeling for us to stay together like we have all year.”

Jimmy Smith, New Orleans Times-Picayune:

One theme that has run throughout this series — Hornets turnovers — continued Wednesday night. New Orleans turned the ball over eight times in the first half, and the Nuggets scored 13 points off the errors. Coming into the game, the Hornets had 70 turnovers, and Denver had scored 105 points off those.

The ugly final series total: 85 turnovers and 128 points.

Illustrative of the damage the turnovers caused can be discovered in an 8-0 Denver run in the first quarter, after New Orleans had gone on a 9-0 spurt to take a nine-point lead, their second-largest at any point in the series, 25-16.

Scoring two baskets off two turnovers, and another initiated by a Chris Andersen blocked shot, Denver whittled that advantage to one point in 54 seconds.

John Reid, New Orleans Times-Picayune:

There was not much conversation in the locker room before Wednesday night’s game. Chris Paul and David West dressed quickly without speaking. James Posey went to the food table in the center of the locker room and quickly made a sandwich before walking out of the door…

Scott gave his players time off Tuesday to do some soul-searching to regain their pride and confidence. In Monday’s 121-63 loss, the Hornets had all-time playoff lows for points (63), field goals made (17), field goals attempted (54), assists (10) and second-half points (24).When asked to describe his players’ demeanor during the plane trip to Denver on Tuesday, Scott said he noticed several reactions.

“I saw (some) angry, disappointed and frustrated, but I also some focused,” Scott said. “I still think we have a lot of guys that still have a lot of pride. That’s why I know for a fact that they won’t just lay down. This team has always been resilient. They’ve had some down times, but they always bounce back.”

Nick Sclafani, The Nugg Doctor:

The Hornets reacted just as I thought a team that was embarrassed 48 hours prior would. They came out of with a rare intensity not seen very often throughout most of this series and fought extremely hard throughout the first half and a good portion of the third quarter. Furthermore, they were playing without Tyson Chandler, who shut things down due to the gimpy ankle and Chris Paul’s knee was rumored to be nagging him.

Nevertheless, Denver matched their intensity and with the help of an electric atmosphere in the Can and were able to pull away with a 16-4 explosion in the final 3:33 of the third to give the Nuggets Nation it’s first chance to savor closing of a playoff series at home since the 1987-88 season when the Nuggets advanced to the conference semi’s with a, 115-95, win over the Seattle Supersonics at McNichols Arena.

Quotes from David West and Byron Scott in the Times-Picayune:

“We were just uncomfortable with the ball and made too many mistakes,” said Hornets forward David West, who led New Orleans with 24 points and nine rebounds. “When you’re dealing with a team that has as many weapons as they have, they can make you pay.

“You know what? We knew they were pretty solid. Just a solid basketball team. I think when it came down to it, we lost confidence in our ability to stop them. Even when the game was close, I never felt we had the confidence to say we could stop they four, five, six possessions in a row. That lack of confidence carried throughout the game on both sides of the ball.”…

“I think they are as good as any team in the West,” said Hornets Coach Byron Scott. “Obviously the Lakers are the best team in the Western Conference. That would be a great match-up. I think Denver is just as explosive as any offensive team in the conference.”…

“Nobody gets excited about moral victories or anything like that,” said West. “You want to win. And we weren’t able to do that. They were just the better team and had a lot more weapons, a lot more in the arsenal. We knew when we got this draw, it was going to be a tough series for us.”

At ESPN.com, Marc Stein had several pressing questions about the Hornets. Excerpts:

The reality, though, is that Paul is considered highly unlikely to publicly blast Hornets owner George Shinn for wanting to cut costs. Those who know Paul best insist that, even privately, it’s not his habit to throw ultimatums at management. It appears, then, that the 23-year-old will give management a chance to convince him that it has a plan to restore New Orleans to the mix of teams contending for the West title, difficult as it is at the moment to picture such a plan.

Things could always change, but Paul declined an opportunity to voice any concern when we caught up to him late in the regular season. Asked specifically if he still sees his long-term future with the Hornets after the near-trade of Chandler, Paul said: “Most definitely.”…

It’s worth noting, furthermore, that Paul was hurting in this series with Denver more than he ever let on. On top of dealing with the Nuggets’ physical defense, Paul banged his knee in a Game 3 collision with Anthony Carter and apparently needed pain medication over the weekend to keep playing. Not that he ever discussed that publicly, either…

The initial indications, from a few sources plugged into NBA coaching circles, suggest that Scott is not in any immediate danger of losing his job…

…Scott — after winning 105 games over the past two seasons — is also scheduled to make $5-plus million next season in the final year on his contract. That would appear to be too much for the cash-strapped Hornets to swallow by firing him and too much for Scott to walk away from.

Sources say Sacramento would indeed be quick to call Scott in for an interview if he was on the open coaching market, given his ties to the franchise after a two-year stint as a Kings assistant to launch his coaching career and Scott’s successes in New Orleans and New Jersey, which include last season’s NBA Coach of the Year trophy.

But Scott is popular in New Orleans and has forged what is habitually described as a good relationship with Paul. With the Hornets widely assumed to be looking to make big changes to their team if they can swing them, there’s a case to be made for keeping the coach and point guard in place as the two-man base for starting over.

Dave Krieger, The Denver Post:

The key was a sophisticated defensive plan against Paul. Up until this series, the Hornets point guard was a machine. In last year’s playoffs, he averaged 24.1 points per game on 50 percent shooting from the field. During the regular season that just ended, he averaged 22.8, again on 50 percent shooting.

Against the Nuggets, in his first show of basketball mortality, Paul was held to 16.6 points on 42 percent shooting…

“I don’t think anybody has trapped the ball screens as well as they did the whole season,” Paul said afterward…

“Most teams go under (the screen) and play soft on him,” Karl said. “In general, that was our weakest defense over the season. Statistically, switching was very good, but switching can create a soft mentality to playing defense. So the initial plan after the research was let’s go after him — a cut-the-head-off-the-snake type of mentality.”…

By consistently jumping Paul on the screen roll, the Nuggets ultimately wore him down. He had four times as many turnovers as Chauncey Billups, his counterpart.

“It was a mixture of different people forcing those,” Karl said. “Dahntay (Jones) is big. Anthony (Carter) is feisty. Chauncey’s smart. And then our big guys, Nene is big and active. Chris (Andersen) is unorthodox. And then you’ve got Kenyon (Martin), who can cover anybody in basketball.”

A. Sherrod Blakely on MLive.com yesterday:

…it appears (the Hornets) may also be willing to listen to overtures for all-star forward David West who is exactly the kind of impact, frontcourt player the Pistons need.

Joe Dumars, Detroit’s president of basketball operations, said there were a few teams that have already indicated they’re interested in trying to get a deal done this summer.

Chances are pretty good that New Orleans was one of those teams.

As we said earlier, Chandler will also be available. But if the Pistons have a choice of one over the other, they’ll take West without hesitation.

Quick hitters:

P.M. Updates:

Posted at 6:18 p.m. Central.

Guerry Smith, New Orleans Sports Examiner:

Paul, one of the five best players in the NBA, deserved better. Everyone else on the team let him down.

Power forward David West gave ammunition to the critics who suggested he was a third option forced into a role as a second option despite his breakout performance in 2007-08. His regular-season numbers were close to his stats from a year ago, but he shot below 40 percent in the playoffs and was a no-show defensively.

Small forward Peja Stojakovic, bothered by a bad back, averaged fewer points (13.3) than in any season since 1999-2000, shot worse (.399) than in any season since his rookie year in 1998-99 and was under 38 percent from 3-point range for the first in nine years.

Center Tyson Chandler, limited by an assortment of foot injuries, was useless in the playoffs before sitting out the series clincher. After averaging 11.8 points and 11.7 rebounds in the regular season a year ago, he produced 8.8 points and 8.3 rebounds.

Shooting guard Rasual Butler had a career year (11.2 points), but he would be a role player rather than a regular on a championship-caliber team. Consider: his lone assist against Denver in game 5 was his only one of the series.

James Posey, a free-agent signee who was supposed to put the Hornets over the top after winning championships with the Miami Heat and the Boston Celtics, was the only live body off the bench but fell short of expectations. He shot 15 for 40 against Denver when New Orleans needed his playoff savvy the most.

Doug Smith, Toronto Star:

Byron Scott’s coaching tenure is in question – but having a year left on his deal could get him into next season; they’ve already tried to deal Chandler away – a pure salary dump that they’ll likely re-visit this summer; and I guarantee you Paul is having second thoughts about his long-term future in New Orleans.

Brandon Gallawa, Talk Hoops:

I picked the Hornets (to win the series) becuase I thought Chris Paul was that good, but it was a terrible pick in hindsight.  He doesn’t have a single teammate that can match his intensity.  The roster is devoid of a quality post player.  Tyson Chandler makes Adam Morrison look tough.  Peja Stojakovic’s game has a yearly expiration date of April 18.  David West is a 6’9″ guy that doesn’t grab boards or play a bruising style.

It’s tough to decide what we should think about Paul.  Should we think he is worse than we thought because he couldn’t come through in the playoffs (and he had a horrible series 5.3 TO, 1.3 steals and 44% from the field)?  Or does this just exhibit how good he was this season?  He led a team to the playoffs despite a number of obvious flaws and was more a pinball than point guard in this series.  His legacy is still in the balance after this game/series, and it only got a lot more gray.

Holly MacKenzie, SLAM Online:

Chris and Deron out of the playoffs and Rondo’s averaging a triple-double in the series. I’m not debating anyone’s greatness, I’m just sayin. To everyone who tried to tell me that Rondo is only good because of the players around him kindly step off and admit you were very, very wrong.

Zach Harper, Talk Hoops:

Michael Jordan was notorious for being a complete asshole in practice and often called out guys on the court for missing an assignment, allowing a three-point play instead of fouling hard enough to stop the shot, or not playing with enough passion and aggression to win ball games. He famously hated guys like Horace Grant in the early years because they weren’t tough and didn’t have the fire and desire of someone like Charles Oakley. He started fights in practice and had a fouler mouth than the lovely ladies on Rock of Love. In the world of hating guys like Bobby Knight for being too hard on his players, that kind of intense leadership can become grating and alienating.

And that may be what will happen with Chris Paul. He’s probably going to alienate more teammates than win over in his career. He’s fiery and intense. He’s hard and unwilling to accept failure. But in today’s world of sensitive athletes who want the world given to them on a silver platter that might not fly with everybody. I could be simply reading for too much into this and perhaps the Hornets were just primed for a beating against the Nuggets. There was a play when Chris Paul was planted mid-court and none of his teammates moved towards him to help him up. Perhaps, it was because they’re tired of his criticism. Perhaps, it’s because of a gesture he made with his arms that they know to mean don’t help me up. But it seemed odd to me.

John DeShazier, New Orleans Times-Picayune:

Fans who have pleaded for the Hornets to trade Peja Stojakovic either don’t realize there’s no market for Stojakovic, or simply want to hear their own voice. Stojakovic is a one-dimensional player who, lately, hasn’t satisfactorily performed his one specialty, shooting. He has two years remaining on his contract, reportedly for $14.2 million and $15.336 million; no team is going to take on that deal for that player.

While I still believe Tyson Chandler is a critical piece for the Hornets, the fact is that now, the team probably can’t get rid of him. He’s been classified as damaged goods – the Thunder vetoed his trade to Oklahoma City because of what the organization deemed a troublesome toe, and a bad ankle helped limit him to 45 regular-season games – and he has two years left on his deal.

And there aren’t any takers for Morris Peterson, Antonio Daniels and Hilton Armstrong…

Think changing the head coach will be the solution, especially after the Denver series, which included an NBA-record 58-point home loss? Here are a couple of reasons why that probably won’t happen.

First, Byron Scott signed a two-year extension after 2007-08 and no owner, in this economic climate, is inclined to pay a coach to not work. Second, the guy won Coach of the Year after last season; he didn’t suddenly forget how to do the job. Third – though fans obviously are accustomed to better results from New Orleans’ NBA team, judging by the outrage – the Hornets advanced to the playoffs for the second consecutive season and won a franchise-record 56 regular-season games last year.

Usually, that doesn’t amount to a fire-able offense.

Quick hitters:

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