Game On: Hornets @ Suns

Published: March 25, 2011

New Orleans Hornets (41-31, 7th in West) at Phoenix Suns (36-34, 10th)

What a bittersweet night it was for the Hornets last night. They turned a certain loss into a tie, and then eventually into a win as Emeka Okafor’s miracle shot looked like a play that was stolen straight from an NCAA tournament game. Even the reaction of the team was March Madness-like. But just two plays earlier was a scene that made every Hornets fan sick to their stomach, as David West was taken off the court in a wheelchair, still writhing in pain from what the Hornets staff would later call “left knee trauma.” [update: Torn ACL 🙁    ]

Now the Hornets have to play Phoenix less than 24 hours after spending so much emotional and physical energy in that dramatic win in Utah.  Ariza and Paul both played big minutes last night. Carl Landry will be thrust into the starting lineup, replacing an All-Star caliber player, just weeks after being acquired from the Kings. Monty will have to formulate a new rotation, deciding on how to divide West’s 40 minutes. Bottom line, this is not a recipe for success, especially when you combine it with the fact that Phoenix has been playing good ball this week as they push for a playoff spot.

What does give the Hornets hope, however, is that they beat this very same Phoenix team just nine days ago in a game that they controlled for the most part. Chris Paul was dynamic in that game, thoroughly outplaying Steve Nash in every way, and Emeka Okafor had stretches of dominance on both ends of the floor. The Hornets also got production from their bench that night. Carl Landry, who will start in this game, was very physical in his 17 minutes of play, going 4-7 and scoring 8 points. Phoenix doesn’t have an answer for Landry on the defensive end and for the Hornets to win tonight, they are going to have to exploit that matchup.

Even without David West, the Hornets will be able to score points against a Phoenix team that gives up nearly 106 PPG. Where this game is going to be won or lost for the Hornets is on the defensive end of the court. In the first meeting between the two teams, the Hornets were exploited on the interior after losing Emeka to an injury. In the second meeting, Emeka locked down the paint, but Phoenix exploited the Hornets poor perimeter rotations by knocking down 14 three-pointers.

In all likelihood, the Hornets will have locking down the paint as their first priority, with the idea that they want Phoenix to have to live or die by their ability to make contested jump shots. Two things scare me about that strategy. The first thing is that Phoenix has been shooting extremely well as of late from behind the arc. They are averaging over 12 made treys per game in their last five games, shooting 41% from deep in that stretch.

The second thing that worries me is that, even if Phoenix were to miss those contested three’s, I am not so sure that the Hornets will be able to grab those long rebounds. While Carl Landry exhibited quality play on the offensive end in the last game against Phoenix, he was a no-show on the defensive glass, as he did not grab a single defensive board in his 17 minutes. On several occasions, Phoenix’s big men simply reached over the undersized Landry for offensive rebounds that kept possessions alive for the Suns. On the flip side, West had 8 defensive rebounds in only 31 minutes. So, either Landry is going to have to play more like D West or the Hornets are going to need major contributions on the glass by their wing players.

Other News and Notes:

– In the last meeting, the Hornets outscored Phoenix 46-22 in the paint, which was one of the most lopsided victories in this category for the Hornets this season. Even without West, I still expect the Hornets to easily win the battle in the paint, as long as Okafor stays out of foul trouble.

– Hornets fans are in a strange position to root for the Spurs tonight, as they square off with Portland. A Hornets win and a Blazers loss means the Hornets vault into sixth and that means a matchup with the Mavs (as opposed to the Lakers). Spurs face the Blazers two times in the next four days. Then, the Hornets get Portland on Wednesday. Luckily for Portland, they somehow get to avoid Duncan twice and David West in what looked like the toughest part of their remaining schedule when I glanced at it a week ago.

– I haven’t looked at the 29 other teams’ schedules, but there is no way that anybody had an odder schedule than we have had this season. We play the most games in the NBA through the All-Star break and even up through mid March, and then we get five days off, only to be followed by 3 games in 4 nights. What? Thankfully, after this road trip it gets normal, as we only have one back-to-back and no long five day off stretches to make the guys rusty.

Hornets 247 Bracket is tight, with a lot of people still having a shot to win. What a crazy tournament- I just hope the games are as good in the Final Four as they have been up to this point.

Vegas Zone: Suns are 3.5  point favorites in this game, and nearly all of the money so far has been going on Phoenix. Because of that, I expect the line to get up to at least 5 or 6 by the time the game starts. The over/under is 196 and I feel safe in taking the over in this game. For some reason, I think the Hornets play more small ball and try to outscore Phoenix tonight. And surprisingly, I think they do it as CP3 has a monster game for his fallen soldier. Hornets 108 Suns 102.

– As sad as I have been since D West went down, I knew there was only one thing that might be able to cheer me up, and that is reading all of your comments as you… Cap….That….Pic


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