Hornets vs. Nuggets: Thursday News Wrap

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

Before we dive in, make sure you check out the new wallpapers that Dariusz dropped yesterday. Over the next few days he’ll be adding more until we end up with desktop freshness for every player on the team. Hoo-rah!

A.M. Updates:

At The Hive:

Three reasons we lost this game: turnovers, shooting, and officiating.

Let’s start with turnovers. Chris Paul was way out of control, making horrible decisions all night, and throwing awful passes. In short, this was the worst game he’s played as a point guard in a long while. Couple that with the various freebie shots he missed, and he really didn’t provide much to the Hornets. The rest of the team didn’t help him out on the ball-control front. David West turned into a black hole offensively; literally every time he passed out of the post, it resulted in a turnover. The Hornets finished in the neighborhood of a 20% turnover rate, meaning they gave the ball away once every five possessions. On the road, that won’t get it done…

There’s no way around it; the officiating was very, very, very bad tonight. I’m probably going to put up a video of all the phantom calls that went Denver’s way. Off the top of my head, I can think of at least ten. It’s ironic that Denver blogs were anticipating superstar calls going Chris Paul’s way prior to the series, and Chauncey Billups was the recipient of at least three superstar calls in this game. Dahntay Jones drew two “charges” with his feet clearly moving. J.R. Smith got one of those. Nene travelled three times in the first quarter and was whistled once. Chauncey stiff armed Rasual Butler and drew a blocking foul. The amazing thing was the consistency with which the calls went Denver’s way and how widespread they were. They occurred at all points in the game, whether it was West getting called for a “charge” with the Hornets trailing 25 or Butler getting called for a “block” in a tie game.

Jim Eichenhofer, Hornets.com:

Although a few of the details changed from Sunday’s Game 1, the script was painfully similar for the Hornets tonight: after scratching and clawing just to stay within striking distance early, New Orleans was on the wrong end of a second-half Denver surge that enabled the spirited, fast-breaking Nuggets to take control. The end result was a second straight one-sided road defeat.

Seventy-two hours after losing by a 29-point margin, the Hornets fell behind by 20-plus points in the fourth quarter and were beaten by 15…

Chauncey Billups didn’t follow up his eight-trey performance in Game 1 with a similar long-range barrage, but he didn’t need to, because he beat the Hornets from just about everywhere else on the floor. Billups did sink four more three-pointers in Game 2, but he also went 11-for-11 from the foul line and piled up 31 points. He averaged 33.5 points in these two games, nearly doubling his 2008-09 regular season average of 17.7.

The Nuggets again demonstrated their superiority in athleticism and quickness over the Hornets when they were able to create turnovers and push the tempo in the second half. Denver took advantage of a third-quarter stretch when New Orleans missed 14 of its initial 17 shots to take command after leading 52-44 at halftime. It again appeared as though New Orleans’ best hope of posting a road victory in this series will be to try to make it a slow-paced, walk-it-up game so that Denver cannot go on one of its patented game-changing runs…

New Orleans also needs to take much better care of the ball. Its 17 turnovers were a big factor behind Denver’s ability to build and expand its lead.

Jeremy Wagner, Roundball Mining Company:

Tonight the Nuggets actually implemented four different schemes, at least that I recognized, to slow down Chris Paul.  During game one they brought help on both sides of the screen in order to keep Chris Paul out of the lane.  Tonight, they ran much less of that while they did a lot more switching, they also trapped and they even played some straight up hedge and recover. 

No matter what scheme they followed Paul was never left alone and Denver was able to direct him into situations where his best option was to pass.  In game one the Nuggets played off of him a little bit more and he was able to get off 19 shots.  I think Denver decided that they would rather have Paul rack up the assists with a few points than a bunch of points with his typical amount of assists.

If that was indeed their thinking it could not have worked better.  Ina game where I expected to see a hyper competitive CP3 look to dominate the game from start to finish, Paul only managed 11 shots.  Not nearly enough to impact the game with his scoring.

Also from Wagner over at ESPN’s Daily Dime (#7):

Much of the talk between Games 1 and 2 focused on how the Hornets needed to have someone other than Chris Paul and David West produce on offense. Wednesday night Peja Stojakovic and Rasual Butler were both hitting shots from behind the arc, combining to make 8-of-10 threes, but the Hornets never seemed to recognize that fact by feeding them the ball.

New Orleans kept forcing the ball to West who, despite finishing the game having shot 9-for-20, suffered through a 1-for-12 shooting stretch during which the Nuggets took control of the contest…

The story for Denver, even with another ridiculous performance by Chauncey Billups, has to be the all-around play of Carmelo Anthony. Melo has struggled in postseasons past due to his desire to force his offense against double teams. After five years of slamming his head against the wall he finally decided to look for a doorway. Wednesday he punished the Hornets for doubling him by finding open teammates to the tune of a career playoff-high nine assists.

Jimmy Smith has player and coach quotes from the Hornets after Game 2:

“I’ve just been missing some shots. Our entire offense is out of sync. We’re just having to work a little too hard to score. That’s the biggest thing. Working too hard. We can’t get easy baskets. We’ve got to rely on some movement and not be so predictable.”

On his team’s 17 turnovers that resulted in 23 Denver points.
“There were some careless turnovers and I think it’s the first time all season when we had just one steal. So we’re not being aggressive enough on the defensive end. But 23 points off 17 turnovers compared to their one, that’s the difference in the game right there. And in the third quarter, they started off with two offensive rebounds and got a ‘3’ out of that. There are a lot of little things we need to do a better job of.”

On whether team played more aggressively tonight
“I thought so. I really did. I thought we stood there, fought, played hard. We had some lapses on the defensive end in both halves. And the turnovers were a killer. When you turn the ball over on this team, they get out on the break, they’re getting layups, getting dunks, so we’ve got to do a better job of making sure we take care of the ball.”

On whether he likes physical nature of series now
“Me personally? From the sideline? I wish I was out there, because I do like the physical part. Me, I don’t mind it whatsoever. It’s like I said: it had nothing to do with the physical part tonight. We turned the ball over too many times and had defensive lapses.”

Is there concern about Chandler’s physical condition?
“Toward the end of the game he was limping a little bit, that’s why I tried to get him out. We’ve got a couple of days for him to heal and rest and get some treatment. I think he’ll be fine for Saturday.”

On what Hornets need to do differently on Saturday
“All they did was take care of home. That’s the bottom line. Our objective was to come here and win a game and we didn’t get it done. They took care of home so we’ve got to go back home and do the same thing. We play better in New Orleans, there’s no doubt about that. Our fans have been fantastic all season long. Again, it’s a challenge and we’re looking forward to it.”

On what Nuggets are doing to disrupt his offense
“They’re trying to get the ball out of my hands. They trap and corral and do all those different type things and tonight Peja got a lot of good looks. Him annd ‘Sual were both 4 of 5 from the 3-point line. There were a few times you get in the lane and guys get a hand on it, but like Coach said, we turned the ball over too much. I think I turned it over five times. I threw two lobs to Tyson too high, threw one behind him, and that stuff comes back to bite us especially when they score in transition.”

On Billups performace in first two games
“He’s played really well. I started off on him tonight, but then with the substitutions and stuff I didn’t get to guard him that much. But he’s playing as well as you can play right now. He’s got like 19 assists and no turnovers and he’s something like 12 of 15 from the 3-point line. . . . not much you can do.”

On whether two double-digit losses concern him
“Not at all. You look at us last year against the Spurs, I think that’s why we can hold our head up. We won two games at home and everyone said it was over, we had those guys down. And the games in that series weren’t very close. So like Coach keeps saying, they held serve and won their games at home now we’ve got to do the same.”

From the AP game recap over at ESPN.com:

Karl said the pair of blowouts mean nothing when the series shifts to the Hornets’ home court.

“They’re going to be very angry and very physical,” Karl said. “The game got a little more chippy tonight. It seemed like they were trying to tease us into mistakes and I’m sure it’s going to continue on the road. Coach [Byron] Scott is obviously upset with the physicality of the game and we’ll see where it goes.”Scott said it wasn’t the rough play that bothered him as much as his team’s 17 turnovers, which led to 23 points, compared to Denver’s six turnovers, which led to a single point by the Hornets…

Last year, the Hornets and Spurs played six straight games with double-digit margins before San Antonio eliminated New Orleans in the second round, and that’s why Paul said the lopsided losses in Denver won’t demoralize the Hornets.

“Not at all. You look at last year against the Spurs, I think that’s why we can hold our heads up,” he said. “We won two games at home and everyone said it was over, we’ve got these guys down. And games in that series weren’t very close.”As Coach keeps saying, ‘They held serve, they won two games at home. Now we’ve got to do the same.’”…

This is the first time Billups has had consecutive turnover-free playoff games in the same year in his career. … Hornets C Tyson Chandler aggravated his tender left ankle but said he was fine. … Billups’ dozen 3s are a franchise best for any playoff series. … Billups has made 57 straight free throws overall.

Benjamin Hochman, The Denver Post:

The Nuggets entered the fourth quarter up 10, with the Hornets simmering, but J.R. Smith scored 10 points in lightning-quick fashion, including two hair-raising, crowd-raising 3s in the first three minutes. As they might say in Cajun country, it became a “bleaux-out.”…

After Game 1, some of the Hornets cried foul on the Nuggets’ hard fouls, notably from Jones. An hour before tipoff on Wednesday, Hornets coach Byron Scott said: “The way they were hitting us the other game, you wouldn’t let a guy hit you like that on the street without reaction. We’ve got to stand up. Be a man.”

Sure enough, Game 2 was more like Round 2. And the Nuggets got in the best blows.

Tyson Chandler shoved Nene, and the two got face-to-face until an official slipped between them. Anthony became tangled up with West in a heated moment. And in the third, Andersen toppled Paul during a layup attempt, earning a technical foul for the Birdman.

“We knew they would come out and try to play physical,” Anthony said. “We wanted to give the hits and take the hits — be aggressive from the tip.”

Jimmy Smith, New Orleans Times-Picayune:

Each Hornets player had a white piece of paper in his locker upon arrival Wednesday night at the Pepsi Center. And Paul hung it from the top of his cubicle.

” ‘The spirit, the will to win, and the will to excel, are the things that endure. These qualities are so much more important than the events that occur.’ — Vince Lombardi.”

The words of wisdom were provided by assistant coach Paul Pressey.

“That’s something I thought was pretty cool,” Scott said. “I thought it was fitting. My old saying is, and even though this is not our house, but ‘You don’t let anybody come into your house and put their feet on your coffee table.’ That’s disrespectful.”

Chris Dempsey, The Denver Post:

Getting on track was supposed to be just a David West problem.

Now, it qualifies as a Chris Paul problem as well.

The Hornets are reeling, and the pillars they lean on — Paul and West — crumbled in Denver. West wanted to be more aggressive Wednesday night after a dismal Game 1, and he was — but his efficiency didn’t improve all that much. He followed a 12-point Game 1 performance with 21 points in Game 2, but many of those came in the second half with the game already decided…

Of equal importance was Paul’s paltry night. The guard has been hounded and harassed for two games now, but Wednesday night took the greatest toll. Paul made just 1-of-5 shots in the first quarter and 5-of-11 for the game. He finished with 14 points and 13 assists.

Paul made it known before the game that his goal in the second game was to shoot the ball better than in the first game. But he ended up shooting worse.

John Reid, New Orleans Times-Picayune:

To get his players inspired to play aggressively from the opening tip, Hornets Coach Byron Scott replayed the tape of Sunday’s 29-point loss about 45 minutes before the game.

“It was the last thing I wanted them to see before we went out,” Scott said. “This is not one of those games where you can wait until the third quarter and say it’s time to start being physical. If you don’t come out with an aggressive mindset from the start and understand how they are going to play from a physical standpoint, you are defeated already.”…

Initially, when the Nuggets pushed for positioning in the post, the Hornets pushed back. For the first quarter, the Hornets defended well and only trailed 27-25.

The Hornets kept it going for the opening three minutes of the second quarter when they forced the Nuggets to miss six of the first seven shots, which enabled New Orleans to take a 31-30 lead.

At that point, the Nuggets went back to what worked in Game 1. They attacked the basket, took advantage of their physical play and forced the Hornets to take difficult shots. Paul was hounded by Dahntay Jones.

West stopped attacking the basket and could not make shots. Center Tyson Chandler’s frustration grew to the point where he and Nene had to be separated after the Nuggets’ big man beat him on a drive for a layup.

Ultimately, New Orleans could not prevent the same problem in Game 1 from reoccurring in the third and fourth quarters of Game 2. The Hornets could not make shots or stop the Nuggets from the scoring…

“When you have a seven-game series, you are not going to win the same way, you’re not going to lose the same way,” Nuggets Coach George Karl said. ” We got to be able to adapt to their adjustments. People always talk about adjustments, most of them are made during the game. They said they are going to move West around. We kind of know their playbook.”

John Henderson, The Denver Post:

He’ll be the villain in New Orleans, no doubt. You can already hear the mob in the French Quarter warming up their lungs. The New Orleans Hornets chirped about his chippy play in Game 1.

They can’t like him any better after Game 2.

But instead of harping about Dahntay Jones’ cheap shots, they’ll be harping about his big shots and defense in the third quarter Wednesday night, a combination that helped turn a close game into a rout that mirrored Game 1…

In about a four-minute span, the 6-foot-6 Jones hit two jumpers and a dunk, took two charges and made all-star Chris Paul look positively ordinary.

The spurt jacked Denver from a 63-58 lead to 73-60. New Orleans never got within 10 again.

Denver Stiffs:

Even for new Nuggets fans, a 2-0 lead might feel a bit weird. But for an old school Nuggets fan, seeing your team up 2-0 in the playoffs is totally surreal and it just hasn’t sunk in yet. Even the Nuggets “glory” teams of 1984-85, 1985-86 and 1987-88 split their first two home games at McNichols Arena in their opening playoff series. In fact, the last time a Nuggets team took care of business at home and found themselves up 2-0 in a playoff series were those 1984-85 Nuggets, but that was in the second round against the Utah Jazz. In other words, it has been 24 long years since the Nuggets were up 2-0 in a playoff series!

I want to give Nuggets coach George Karl a well deserved shout out, too. It’s not easy to replicate a blowout in the playoffs and that’s exactly what Karl’s Nuggets have done. Typically the losing team from Game 1 makes major adjustments and brings a completely different energy into Game 2 (as we saw with Miami at Atlanta earlier tonight). And yet Karl has been able to keep the Nuggets focused on one game at a time, rather than foolishly look beyond this series. Karl is also visibly working the refs and managing the game more closely than he did throughout the regular season.

Benjamin Hochman, The Denver Post:

Nuggets center Nene is playing this series with a sore left hand, and even though he’s right-handed, Nuggets coach George Karl said, “I think it’s a little bigger deal than people think because he uses it and he likes to finish with his left as much as with his right.”…

Think this series is physical? “This is not physical like it was in the ’80s and ’90s,” said Scott, who won three rings with the Lakers as a player in the ’80s. “It’s so much watered-down, it’s unbelievable. Some of the stuff we used to do, they wouldn’t allow you to do right now. From that standpoint, it’s not a physical game. I wish they would go back to the rules in the ’80s and the ’90s; it would separate a lot of the men from the boys.”…

Paul used to play in New Orleans with Denver’s J.R. Smith while Smith still developed as a young player out of high school.

“It’s funny to see J.R. now in ball screens and things like that, because that used to be sort of J.R.’s Achilles’ heel in that he didn’t really handle the ball well,” Paul said. “But he’s playing with such a high confidence right now. When he catches the ball, no matter where he catches it from or shoots it from, I’m going to cringe, because I always think he’s going to make it.”

David Ramsey, Colorado Springs Gazette:

Scott played in the days when entering the lane was as dangerous as running across a freeway. Big men had all kinds of fun beating up other big  men.

So why is Scott whining so much?

The answer is simple. Paul stands 5-foot-11 and weighs 170, at best. Everything about the Hornets revolves around Paul, who is wise, quick, fearless …

And tiny, by NBA standards.

Scott wants referees to protect Paul. He wants to hear so many whistles that the Nuggets will soften their approach. He wants the lane to become a friendlier destination for his Hornets.

It is contradictory for Scott to talk with nostalgia for those violent days when, to use his words, you could tell the “the mens from the boys.”

Brandon Gallawa, Talk Hoops:

The best word to describe the Hornets in this game: lethargic.  They looked almost as if they didn’t care at times and couldn’t wait to get back to New Orleans.  This is very suprising considering their team captain.  Chris Paul always gives maximum effort and expects nothing less from his teammates.  Something tells me the Hornets’ locker room was not a very pleasant place to be after tonight’s game.

Chris Tomasson, NBA.com:

Finally, the Nuggets know again what it’s like to be in control of series. They walloped New Orleans 108-93 Wednesday night at the Pepsi Center to go up 2-0 in their West first-round series.

If you want to know who might be the most excited, find forward Carmelo Anthony. In his first five trips to the Playoffs, Anthony never had won even two games in any series.

The Nuggets had lost five straight times in the first round, with no series even going six games. Their postseason record in Anthony’s career had been 4-20 entering this spring…

The Nuggets haven’t won a playoff series since 1994, the NBA’s longest ongoing drought. That also was the last time Denver won even two games in one series.

With a raucous crowd of 19,623 jamming the Pepsi Center, Nuggets fans are letting it be known their team is no longer fool’s gold in the Playoffs.

“The crowds are phenomenal,” Billups said. “The guys are understanding that this is what homecourt advantage is all about… You got 20,000 people out there, cheering and rooting and frustrating the other team. Our crowd has been awesome.”

Rob Mahoney of Hardwood Paroxysm, in a post titled “George Karl is a Miracle Worker”:

I have never seen a team completely frustrate Chris Paul so consistently over the course of two games.  I was willing to give CP a pass for Game 1; the playoffs are a completely different ball game, and it can take time to adjust.  But in Game 2, I saw a virtual repeat of one of the most frustrating defenses in these playoffs.

But how are the Nuggs even able to pull this off?…

What I’ve been impressed with most is the discipline.  This team, for two games against the Hornets, has played tremendous team defense.  We knew that Carmelo was a much improved defender, and we’ve seen Chauncey’s body of work when it comes to locking down point guards.  What we didn’t know was that this roster, from Melo to Anthony Carter, was ready to suckerpunch New Orleans with all the Popovichian fury that this roster could muster.  It’s a well-oiled machine that was oiled an extra time just for good measure, but the results are as organically beautiful as I ever could have imagined.  Each Nugget has done their homework and is executing to perfection.

Quick hitters:

P.M. Updates:

Posted at 12:45 p.m. Central.

To start, more walls from Dariusz:

Player and coach quotes from the Nuggets over at the T-P:

“My job is to go out there, play hard and be aggressive. It’s a fine line between being dirty and playing hard. As long as my teammates see it as playing hard, I’m fine with it.”

“Our expectations this season were set high, despite what everbody else was saying. We wanted to be in this situation. We envisioned to be up 2-0 on our home court… We knew they was going to come out trying to play physical. We wanted to give the hits from the opening tip.”

“I’m a believer that nothing really happens until you lose a home playoff game. It’s nice to be 2-0. It’s something that hasn’t happened since I’ve been here. We have a lot of work to do. We need to continue to work on getting an edge.”

John DeShazier, New Orleans Times-Picayune:

True, it’s a little reminiscent of last season, when the Hornets steamrolled San Antonio in the first two games of that series. The Spurs looked old and spent in New Orleans, appeared ready to be swept. The Hornets have looked so worn down in Denver you practically could hear them creak.

But the similarity ends there.

The Spurs have a championship pedigree, had some adversity to draw from. San Antonio knew it didn’t need to panic, knew that if it could get the Hornets in an elimination-game situation, it would have an edge regardless of where the game was played.

Until the Hornets wade through such a scenario, all they can cling to are cliches. All they have right now is the head game that Denver has done nothing more than what it was favored to do and supposed to do – hold serve on its home court.

It’s the only game New Orleans has played well so far in the playoffs. And if that’s as good as it gets then Hornets fans had better enjoy Saturday and Monday – because if that’s the case, the team won’t be returning to New Orleans for Game 6.

David Schexnaydre Jr., NOLA.com:

Part of me wants to keep it in perspective and note how the Hornets simply lost two playoff games on another team’s floor, which is actually rather common. Teams opening the playoffs at home take 2-0 leads all the time. And while I wish I could chalk up the previous two games to home court advantage, I know it’s more than that. Like I said, I’m trying to keep it in perspective, but that perspective isn’t very good at this point.

I mean, honestly, at any point throughout this series, has it really looked like the Hornets were the better team? I would have to say abolutely not…

How many times is Byron Scott going to let Denver go on a huge momentum-changing run without calling a time out to stop it? Part of using time outs is being proactive. When another starts to hit shots and the crowd starts to really get into it, burn a time out and put an end to it. In the second quarter, there’s about 6 minutes left, and all of a sudden Denver starts getting hot. The crowd is getting into the game, the Nuggets are flying all over the place, and Byron is sitting on the bench with facial expressions and body language similiar to that of Mr. Kruger of Kruger Industrial Smoothing.

Among lots of thoughts from ticktock6 at Hornets Hype:

New Orleans fans (and players) have clearly been relying on Tyson Chandler’s return to give hope to this team… and… well, he’s something of an emotional leader for them, but he couldn’t even run in the 4th quarter. He was limping up and down the floor. If it wasn’t the playoffs, he wouldn’t be out there. His big return is just not gonna happen. Dude is hurt.

If we don’t win Game 3 shut him down? Just throwing it out there. I know we relied on him to inject some hope in this team, but it’s probably starting to be time to face the facts.

Nick Sclafani, The Nugg Doctor:

And boy did I love the individual effort by Dahntay Jones. He was flat out in the jockstrap and the head of Chris Paul. For each and every one of his 20 minutes of burn he didn’t allow Paul to breathe. Paul, blatantly taken out of his game, couldn’t even muster some of his patented flops and flails in an attempt to draw the fouls he usually warrants. The double edged effect that this had on Paul was staggering. He only shot five free-throws (he did make all five) and attempted eleven field goals in 38 minutes of burn of which he finished with 14 points and 13 assists. Or in other words, not even close to enough of an impact to get his team competitive in game two.

Additionally, and with these kinds of defensive efforts, it deserves a special note that the Nuggets have not lost a single quarter to the Hornets through two games of this series…

Does anyone believe me now that the advantage at the point belongs to Denver? It’s OK, you can admit it now. Doing so is the first step in recovery as I know you thought I was crazy to write that in my series preview.

Matt Watson, NBA FanHouse:

If the Hornets had control of this series, a 90-second highlight package the next morning would probably catch you up to speed on Chris Paul’s performance: a couple of alley-oops, a few sneaky steals and a slick bounce bass between defenders to set up an easy layup and you’ve got the gist of it. He’s a joy to watch over the course of an entire game, but if all you have is a minute and a half, you can still get almost as much fun in the amount of time it takes your toaster to thaw your frozen waffle.

To truly appreciate Chauncey Billups, though, requires an evening-long commitment. Not that he’s a stranger to the occasional jump-out-of-your-seat play, but the hallmark of his game is efficiency, and that doesn’t always translate to the highlight reel.

It’s easy to string together video of eight made three-pointers like he did on Sunday, but how do you convey with a few clips how he’s yet to turn the ball over after two games? Or the fact that he hasn’t missed a free throw in 19 attempts? Or that he’s shooting an obscene 60% from the field and 80% from three-point land?

To be fair, Paul usually shows as much as flash as efficiency, but not so far in the playoffs. Through two games, he’s shooting 40% with nine turnovers. Yes, he’s tallied a double-double in both games, but that hasn’t helped the Hornets stay competitive, let alone actually win a game. Instead, it’s been all Billups, all the time; it’s just too bad his brilliance is on display while most of the country is asleep.

Quick hitter:

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