We have a little pre game treat for you today. At the Hive, a great New Orlenas Hornets blog, and I have done a little Q and A in preperation for the big Thanksgiving night conflagration between the Hornets and Nuggets.
Pickaxe and Roll: Before the season I believed that if any team other than the Lakers was going to represent the Western Conference in the finals it would be the Hornets. New Orleans experienced a 2-5 stretch before their current three game winning streak. Their five losses include games against Atlanta, at Charlotte and Sacramento. Was that 2-5 stretch just an early season blip or are there issues that were revealed that might plague the team all season? Do you fully expect them to be a top two or three seed at the end of the season?
At the Hive: The Hornets' biggest issues this year have been over-fouling and poor perimeter defense. Now, the perimeter defense seemed like it took a turn for the better the last few three games. That said, our last three games were against Oklahoma City (twice) and the Clippers. So Denver will be the first real test to see if the defense has returned to last year's levels. Over-fouling I feel is a small sample thing that will correct itself as the season goes on.
I still expect the Hornets to challenge for the two or three spot at the end of the season. Houston will obviously be the biggest competition, since they could potentially lock the Hornets out of the top three by winning the Southwest Division. As the team is constructed now, the biggest flaw would be our bench. I really can't see GM Jeff Bower failing to make a move down the road for a point guard if the poor bench play continues.
Pa&R: Tyson Chandler's numbers have dropped off quite a bit from last season. Is that dropoff apparent in his play or is it just a matter of dealing with a small sample size?
@tH: He started off really slowly due to a sprained ankle. But one thing that worries me: he doesn't get his "tip out" rebounds very often. Last year, that was one of his biggest strengths. Even when he didn't have rebounding position, he would rely on his athleticism to leap up and tip rebounds back out to the perimeter. This year, that's been sorely lacking. It could be that he isn't getting as much lift off his injured ankle. That's my hope any way. If his problems persist through December, the Hornets might be looking at a serious issue since Tyson is by far the best rebounder on the squad.
Pa&R: While the James Posey addition was made primarily for his post season experience, but has he provided what the Hornets were expecting from him so far in the regular season?
@tH: Oh, he's been amazing. Seems to come up with the timely trifecta every single night. The biggest thing with Posey is that even on his "off nights," he's worth having on the floor. He makes up for poor shooting games with terrific hustle and man defense. Having him guard guys like Kobe and LeBron has been a huge improvement over Peja, as you might imagine.
Pa&R: Even though the Nuggets won 50 games last season I contended that there was little to no intimidation factor. No teams were saying, "Crap, we have to play the Nuggets tonight?" I believe the Nuggets are better this year than last year now that they are focusing on playing attentive defense, actually moving around on offense and having added a point guard who can shoot and defend in Chauncey Billups. As a fan of an elite team how close are the Nuggets to being a team you dread playing?
@tH: Hmm. Interesting question. The thing that worries me most is Chauncey Billups, the defender. Billups absolutely torments Chris Paul. I know a lot of that must be credited to the Detroit Piston's excellent help defense. But Billups stays in front of his man as well as any player in the NBA. To me, that's really impressive since Billups isn't the quickest guy in the world himself. His footwork on D is what helps him accomplish it, and Paul has been stymied by it. As far as the rest of the Nuggets, I feel pretty good that J.R. Smith is coming off the bench instead of starting. The Hornets' bench struggles to score, but is up there with the best defensive units in the league. Between Devin Brown, Julian Wright, and James Posey, I feel confident that the Hornets can limit Smith.
Thanks to At the Hive for the great insight. Hopefully he is right about Chauncey being able to hound Paul.