Game On: Hornets @ Jazz

Published: November 24, 2010

According to Hornets fans, the sky is falling after Monday night’s loss to the Clippers, but regardless of the impending doom, New Orleans still has a game to play tonight against the Jazz. It wasn’t just Monday’s loss that has Hornets fans worried, as the Hornets were exposed in several areas during their wins last week against Cleveland and Sacramento as well. Despite the 11-2 record, it is apparent that the defense might not be the elite unit their stats portray them to be and the offense is limited in certain areas.

Despite all of that, a win tonight against Utah would go a long way towards solidifying the Hornets as an early season contender in the West. That is going to be easier said than down however as the Jazz have won 6 of the last 7 against New Orleans and generally owned the Hornets since both D Will and CP3 entered the league. While history does not always dictate the future, New Orleans has to be aware that it is Utah’s physicalness and tenacity that has killed them in the past and this Hornets team, more than any other, is built to combat those attributes.

For the first time since they entered the league, it can be argued that CP3 has the deeper and perhaps more talented supporting cast. While Paul Milsap has been a revelation for Utah, Al Jefferson has disappointed so far and Raja Bell and AK47 are on the backside of their careers. CJ Miles is talented, but extremely inconsistent and it would be kind if I were to call the rest of the bench average.

Of course Jerry Sloan still mans the bench and because of that you know that Utah will get the most out of each and every one of its players. Also, you know that this Utah team will never give up, as is evidenced by their five 15+ point second half comebacks already this season.

After Monday’s loss, CP3 was quoted as stating “They say winning cures all. But hopefully, with this loss, we’ll get back to paying attention to what we’ve got to do as a unit defensively.” For Hornets fans ready to press the panic button, let’s just hope CP3 walks out of Utah tonight with that Winning Cure All.

What the Hornets need to do on Offense:

Despite Al Jefferson’s impressive career numbers and Paul Milsap’s breakout season, neither player is known to have a reputation as even an average individual defender. Looking beyond the two starters, the Jazz have Kyrylo Fesenko and Francisco Elson as their backup bigs and neither of those players strike fear into the heart of fellow NBA players. With David West catching fire as of late, averaging 24 PPG over his last three, he will undoubtably be the focal point of the offense tonight. Utah’s best matchup for West, in fact, might be AK47 because his quickness and length could give West problems on the perimeter. However, in those situations where he is on West, expect the Hornets to get the ball to West down low where he can use his strength.

West shouldn’t be the only Hornet who benefits from Utah’s lack of a defensive presence in the interior, as Belinelli and Ariza have proven to be fairly efficient when attacking the rim so far this season. In addition, CP3 should be able to get into the paint and draw defenders, while Willie Green can attack the defense from the wings and corners.

Where Utah has really been exposed, however, is on the boards as their defensive rebounding rate is only 62.74%, which is among the worst in the league. That means that of every five missed shots by an opposing team, Utah only manages to grab a little over 3 of them. While the Hornets are not a good offensive rebounding team, Okafor has been great this year and keeping possessions alive and the combo of West and Jason Smith have been active, averaging nearly 4 offensive rebounds per game combined.

The danger that the Hornets face is relying too much on the inside game and/or David West on isolation plays. While it is tempting to continually pound Utah’s weakness, it limits the involvement that other players have on the game, which is why Utah has been so effective in shutting teams down in the second half. Utah sets a trap where they let you have certain things early, and then when they take them away from you, then you are forced to choose between two options: Be stubborn and keep pounding away against double teams or Give the ball up to cold shooters who weren’t previously involved. It’s quite a brilliant strategy for an undermanned team to be honest, but the Hornets can not fall for Utah’s Rope-A-Dope. They must vary their offense, attack the rim, and keep everyone involved.

What the Hornets Must do on Defense:

It has been no secret that in years past that the Utah Jazz simply outworked and outhustled the Hornets on both ends of the court. They came off the bench with guys like Matt Harpring and Paul Milsap, who just pounded an already tired Hornets team into submission. Their quality of depth was evident and Jerry Sloan’s system allowed the Jazz to slowly pick apart the Hornets to the point where most games weren’t even in reach by the 4th quarter.

The Jazz have lost some of that depth and toughness, with guys like Ronnie Brewer and Matt Harpring leaving town and Paul Milsap forced to become a starter due to the departure of Carlos Boozer. Combine that with Okur’s injury and the addition of Al Jefferson, and the new look Jazz are more of a finesse team that relies on simply outscoring the opposition on any given night.

They still are fairly provicient on the offensive galss, which is surprising considering how poor they are on the defensive glass, but guys like Paul Milsap and Al Jefferson pull down their share of offensive rebounds. Where the Jazz seem to live and die this year is at the three-point line. When they are hitting, they can go off for 120+ points, but when guys like CJ Miles can’t find his stroke, they are an average offensive team at best.

On the season the Jazz are shooting 34% from behind the arc, but in their losses they are shooting under 25% from deep, while they are shooting over 40% in their wins. Guys like CJ Miles and RajaBell have the ability to light it up from three or have terrible shooting nights, and the Hornets defense has to do its best to make sure tonight is the latter.

Of course the Hornets number one focus has to be to stop Utah’s formidable pick and roll combo of Deron Williams and Paul Milsap. In a lot of ways it will be like looking in a mirror for CP3 and David West, with a few slight exceptions. Although Milsap does pop on occassion, he is more likely to roll to the basket than West and Deron is more likely to shoot the ball if defenders go under than Paul. Okafor has to be a presence in the middle and Ariza has to do a much better job of rebounding and boxing out on the weak side if the Hornets are going to walk out of Utah tonight with a win.

Vegas Zone

The Hornets come into the game as underdogs for only the second time in the last eight games, as the Jazz are 4 point favorites at home. Gamblers seem to agree with Vegas as 73% of those voting on the money line are picking Utahdespite the Hornets being +155. When you factor in the spread, however, 79% of gamblers are taking the Hornets +4, so expect that line to move to 3 or 3.5 by game time.

The over/under is 193 and a slight majority is taking the under. I am 1-3 so far this year, so odds say I am due to nail one of these. I will take Utah minus 4 and the under. Sorry to say it Hornets fans (and I am praying I am wrong), but I got Utah 97 Hornets 89.

NBA 2K11 Sim

In retrospect, perhaps I should have posted the 2K sim for the Clippers game since LA did in fact win the match up on Monday night. At the time it seemed more improbable than The Miz winning the WWE Championship, but both happened in a two hour span, so what do I know.

So, here is the sim for tonight’s game. If it goes anything like it does in the sim, then we are sure to be entertained, but might be cranky when we are with our families tomorrow afternoon due to a lack of sleep and the frustration of another close loss.


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