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Next Few Games will be a Bellwether

Published: November 19, 2009

The Hornets play the Suns tonight.  I did a preview of this matchup last week before the Hornets went into Phoenix and were absolutely destroyed.  Phoenix has continued its strong play and now stands at the top of the Western Conference at 10-2.  The good news is the weaknesses I listed in the last game preview still exist.  The bad news, of course, is Chris Paul won’t be around to help take advantage of them.

Whether the team wins or not, I’m more interested in watching just how the Hornets play tonight.  Against the Clippers, the Hornets ran a series of high-low post sets that allowed West to operate from the elbow(always his best place to attack from) and drop passes to Okafor crossing the lane close the basket.  That should be a standard set for a team with two capable big man scorers, and it was never run under Byron Scott.  There were also several staggered screen plays set for Peja, allowing him to break free for perimeter shots and an open running hook a few feet from the basket.(Peja bellowed like someone had hit him with a claymore as he took the shot, even though no one was near him.  I think it was an attempt to scare off defenders.  Not a fan of contact is Peja.)

That’s the sort of change I find vastly interesting.  The team’s offense has been very predictable the past couple years as the squad has become more and more reliant on Paul’s and West’s individual brilliance to carry them through games.  The changes, I think, will be welcome to all. (West has already weighed in that he thought their offense was too predictable.)  However, running them against the Clippers is different from running them against elite teams – and that’s what the Hornets are facing over the next few games.

The Suns lead the west.  The Hawks come visiting Saturday, and the currently lead the east.  Then the Hornets get a back to back and visit Miami on Sunday, and while the Heat have started to cool down from a hot 7-4 start, they earned that hot start on the back of tough defensive efforts.  How the Hornets play against these teams will tell us a lot about whether the team is salvageable this year.  Even if they lose, if they stay in contact and aren’t blown out, then I’m fairly confident the Hornets will be able to make a run when Chris Paul returns.  If the Hornets crash and burn, then we all should be bracing for a long season.

Chris Paul and the Game Ball

As the Times-Picayune and other local news outlets reported after the win over the Clippers, Chris Paul surprised Jeff Bower by presenting him with the game ball.  It’s a small gesture, really, but I love it.  It’s the way a good team leader acts.  Paul is loyal to those around him and was clearly saddened by Byron Scott’s firing, but I have never yet seen any indication that he holds a grudge.  I appreciate it no end the way Paul handles sometimes tough situations.

Devin Brown

Devin Brown catches a ton of flak on this blog – and pretty much anywhere else a Hornets fan is writing, watching a game, or talking about the Hornets.  However, I do need to give him one shout out:  Devin is currently the best perimeter shooter on the Hornet’s roster not named Chris Paul.  He’s taking more threes than he ever has in his life, and is hitting them at a crazy 46.4%.  That’s about 8% better than his best year in the past.  If you had asked me to the list the Hornets’ biggest perimeter threat this season, Brown would have been somewhere above Julian Wright, but below Assistant Coach Robert Pack.

Now, just so you all don’t try and verbally string me up for saying something good about Devin Brown and tempting fate, here’s the other side of the coin:  Brown is shooting just 29% on two point shots, and drawing only a single pair of free throws a game.  At this point, I’m not sure which is more frightening – when Devin Brown puts his head down and drives, or when Peja gets a wide open three.

(Kidding about Peja.  Sort of.)

Enjoy the game.

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