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Game On: Hornets @ Bobcats
The Hornets head into tonight’s game battered and bruised, as Paul, West, and Belinelli all have ankle problems and Emeka’s knees are reportedly sore. The Hornets have been lucky to get through the season so far with limited injuries, but when you continue to have to play 40+ minutes a game due to an inadequate bench, eventually the injury bug is going to catch up. Both of the Hornets games this week have gone into overtime, and as a result, the starters have seen a significant spike in their minutes. Combine that with the fact that this is the second night of a back-to-back and the fact that Charlotte has been playing really well since Coach Silas took over and this game could get ugly.
All hope is not lost, however, as there as some reasons to be optimistic. First of all, the Hornets are playing much better on the road of late, winning 4 of their last five with the lone loss being to the Champs in a close contest. Secondly, the bench has shown some signs of life this week, with Thornton coming alive against the Magic and Jarrett Jack playing out of his mind last night in Houston. Quincy Pondexter has shown flashes here and there and there has even been a few Aaron Gray sightings.
Lastly, Charlotte is the kind of team that New Orleans matches up well against. The Hornets prefer to see another slow-paced, low-scoring team on the schedule. These two teams play the same game, and when the Hornets have trouble, it is because they are tricked into playing an uptempo game with a team that simply has more weapons than they do. That will not happen tonight. This game will come down to defense and execution, and even though the Hornets will be exhausted, they still have a chance of winning that type of game.
Point Guard: CP3 vs. DJ Augustin
Augustin is having his best season as a pro and he has only gotten better since Silas came in and encouraged the team to run more. Larry Brown is known for being tough on his PG’s, but Augustin definitely learned how to run an offense from the old coach and has been unstoppable since Brown left and the shackles were taken off. In Charlotte’s last five games (4 of which were wins), Augustin has averaged 19 points and nearly 9 assists per game, including a 22 and 12 performance against Derrick Rose in a win earlier this week.
The guy is playing well and he might be catching CP3 at the right time- on the second night of a road back-to-back with a sore ankle- but the fact is that CP3 is still CP3, so you have to say advantage Hornets. This will be an interesting matchup to watch, however, if for nothing else than to see DJ Augustin set the half court offense up with one of his patented spin moves where nobody is on him.
Shooting Guard: Willie Green vs. Stephen Jackson
Unless the Bobcats can continue to make a playoff push, expect Jackson’s name to become the subject of numerous trade rumors this February. He is 32 and making nearly 9 million dollars on a team that is going nowhere and that is the standard bio for a guy who gets moved at the deadline for expiring contracts. Jackson will be this year’s Caron Butler and there will likely be numerous teams willing to scoop him up, including the team that got Butler last year- the Dallas Mavericks.
The Hornets are also likely to be on that list and tonight will be a good opportunity to see the guy first hand. Depending on what you look at in his game, you can talk yourself into him being a good fit and you can talk yourself into him being a bad fit. On the negative side, he is a volume shooter who needs plenty of touches to get his points and his percentages are subpar. On the plus size, he would give the Hornets tremendous size on the wings with Ariza, has a high IQ, and he gets to the line more often than our current crop of shooting guards.
Regardless, he wins this matchup tonight against either Willie Green or Belinelli.
Small Forward: Trevor Ariza vs. Gerald Wallace
Another guy on the trading block, and the apple of Ryan Schwan’s eye, Gerald Wallace had ankle issues of his own this month and was forced to miss several games. He returned this week, looking like he never left, averaging a team high 41 MPG. Recently Wallace’s name has been connected to the Cleveland Cavaliers who refuse to just claim their title as league’s worst team and head into the lottery with 25% of the ping-pong balls. Instead, they want to add Wallace with Lebron’s exception and win 17 games instead of 12. Brilliant!
Perhaps Wallace can still land here, which gives us just another reason to watch. Wallace is athletic and talented on both ends of the court. He has games where he can seemingly get to the line at will depending on the matchup, so Ariza might have his hands full tonight. Ariza has been playing much better as of late, however, and I would not be surprised at all to see him win this individual matchup. Ariza has scored in double figures in each of the last five games and is shooting over 50% as well, which is a 14% increase over his season average. Monty called Trevor out and told him that he needed to focus on becoming more of a slasher than a shooter and Ariza has responded with a great start to 2011.
Power Forward: David West vs. Boris Diaw
West’s dunk last night got HornetsNation on its feet and propelled the Hornets to a great comeback win. While it is those big plays we will always remember, to me it is the little things that West is doing that is the difference between a 24-16 team and a 16-24 team. His defense is much improved and his decision making while double teamed is far better than in year’s past. I will venture to say that this has been one good byproduct of Chris Paul going down last year, because as West became the #1 guy, he saw far more double teams and learned how to adjust to them.
As for Diaw, he has been one of the few Charlotte players that has not seen a boost in his production since Silas took over for Larry Brown. He still fills out the stat sheet, but unfortunately for Charlotte he COMPLETELY fills it out- and that means plenty of missed shots and turnovers to go with the points, assists, and rebounds.
Center: Emeka Okafor vs. Naze Mohammad
Over the last two months, Okafor has been everything the Hornets were hoping he would be when they traded for him prior to last season. He has been a force on the glass and has finished rather well around the rim, as he continues to notch impressive double-doubles that lead to Hornets wins. Ideally, the free throw shooting would improve and Okafor would do a better job at protecting the paint- but let’s be happy with what we got.
On the other side, Mohammad is yet another guy I would love to steal from Charlotte, as he would be the perfect backup big for this Hornets team. He has the length and bulk to make an impact on the defensive end and he has a good low post and spot up game for a center. He gets about 18 minutes a game and gives the Bobcats 8 points, 5 boards, 1 block, and shoots over 50% from the field. Give him those same 18 minutes here and let Okafor go back down to his 30 MPG and you are looking at a 20 and 14 center combo that matches up favorably with anybody outside of LA and Boston in the playoffs.
Bench: Marcus Thornton, Jarrett Jack, Jason Smith, Q-Pon vs. Gerald Henderson, Tyrus Thomas, Shaun Livingston, Kwame Brown
Kwame might start for Nazr, but either way they both essentially get reserve minutes on this team as Charlotte often goes small with Diaw and Thomas playing at the 4 and the 5. Tyrus Thomas is the best reserve in this game, as he gives Charlotte 12, 6, and 2 (blocks) per game in just 22 minutes. Gerald Henderson is also someone we should watch out for as he has been a key part of Silas’s rotation since he took over. Larry Brown buried the young guy on the bench (surprise!), but Henderson has shown some potential under Silas- including a 19 point, 9 rebound performance on 8 of 11 shooting last week against Washington.
For the Hornets, Marcus Thornton will be the X Factor in this game. He only played 11 minutes last night and should be one of the only Hornets who will be fresh for this game. Something tells me that if New Orleans is to win this game, it will need a huge performance from Mr. Thornton, and something tells me that they will get it!
Other News and Notes:
– Charlotte comes into the game as 3.5 point favorites and the over/under is 183.5. To me, this game feels a lot like the second Milwaukee game, and I will predict it goes the same way. Take the Hornets and the under- Hornets 91 Bobcats 86.
– Bobcats have been good at home as of late- winning three straight and 9 out of their last 13.
– And now, time for everyone’s favorite game: Add the Caption!