garrett-hinchey
Toronto Raptors New Orleans Hornets January 17, 20110

It’s bittersweet all this losing: on the one hand, you secure more ping pong balls in the lottery in hopes of landing a top 3-5 player; on the other hand, you lose at home to the Pistons, then start a 5 game road trip with a loss to a ridiculously bad Wizards team before playing three of the top teams (Spurs, Magic and Heat) in the league in succession.

So lets just talk bout the Hornets who started the season 8-0, but have settled into a respectable 25-16, and are holding onto the 6th seed in the West by a game and a half. They are currently on a 4-game winning streak, and something you may not have known, are second in the league in points allowed. You have offensive juggernauts like Chris Paul and David West on your team, and it’s your defense that is winning games. It does make sense once you start looking at the rest of the roster.

Checked in with Joe Gerrity from http://www.hornets247.com/blog/ for his take on the Hornets and the game:

The Hornets have been 14-15 since the Jack trade; while you can’t really blame the sub .500 play on the trade, there is something going on. What’s happened to this team?
What really happened is that opponents started hitting their threes and reading scouting reports on guys like Jason Smith (who has gone from super-sub to irrelevant). If you look at the beginning of the year, a bunch of players on the bench were having years not statistically in line with what one would expect from players of their caliber. Today you can’t find a guy with a PER over 12.

I know why the Raptors made that trade, but I always questioned why the Hornets would give up so much for Jack and some parts. How’s the trade working out for you, and would you take it back knowing what you know now?
Jack thus far hasn’t been the guy a lot of people thought he would be, but I’m optimistic he’ll come on in the second half as he gets more accustomed to the offense. Overall it was and continues to be a slam dunk (sorry) of a deal for the Hornets. It took 5.5 million off their books, getting them below the luxury tax line in the process. They didn’t sacrifice future assets and they didn’t take on any nauseating contracts. Oh, and they acquired the best player in the deal, who just happens to be a good friend of Chris Paul. To top it off the Hornets got back a big trade exception which they will be able to utilize well past when Peja’s deal would have ended (new CBA willing).

David West is getting zero attention as one of the better free agents hitting the market this summer. What’s his value on the open market, and how much will his resigning be impacted by Chris Paul’s future with the team?
First off, I think he really likes New Orleans. He’s a pretty low key guy and being on the Hornets and in New Orleans allows for him to have a lot of privacy. It’s also the only team he’s ever been with. I’m not going to speculate what the player salaries are going to be like under a new CBA, but If Paul remains quiet and continues being happy, then West will be offered a fair market contract for three or four years and he will likely take it. He’s not greedy and the team probably wouldn’t find anyone better for the price he will sign for.

That said, Chris Paul caused waves last summer with his desire to win. Should this season play out less than splendidly there’s really no reason to think that something like couldn’t happen again next summer. I doubt West wants to be part of a rebuilding process, and the Hornets would have to reason to re-sign him if that’s what they were doing.

After witnessing Chris Bosh, LeBron James and what’s going on with Carmelo Anthony, I think we can all agree that Chris Paul is on the same trajectory. With a few years left on his contract, Chris Paul has a great deal of value for any team he lands on. Do you think it’s time to trade the franchise?
Not yet. I’m a gambler at heart, so I’m not one to cash in my chips, even if that may be the best course of action most times. I’m someone who likes to go for the big win, and the Hornets have a chance for that big win with Chris Paul on the roster. Right now the Hornets are two players away from being real contenders. They need a swingman who is a star on both ends of the floor, and they need a legitimate PF/C 6th man. They have their superstar, and as we’ve seen in the league it’s easier to attract talent when you have talent. Without Paul they are just hoping that a ping pong ball bounces the right way on draft night, and even that is just for the opportunity to possibly have what they have right now with CP3. You don’t give up a one of the best players in the league unless the fat lady has sung. If that happens, tell the last one out to shut the lights off.

How do the Hornets match-up with the Raptors? Call the game.
The Raptors don’t scare much, but I’m overly optimistic. I’ll enjoy watching Okafor and Bargnani duke it out. Hornets by 12.

I must say, after going through the Chris Bosh situation, all the signs point to Paul bolting as soon as possible; whether it be via free agency or a forced trade, the dude is gone.

Hope Joe doesn’t bet too much on him staying…sorry dude…

Injuries

Toronto
Reggie Evans – Out
Peja Stojakovic – Out
Leandro Barbosa – Out
Sonny Weems – Day to day
Jerryd Bayless – Day to day
Jose Calderon – Day to day

New Orleans
Marco Belinelli – Day to day

Match-ups

Point Guard
…lol…this one isn’t even close. You have a top-2 point guard in the league with Jarrett Jack, who could potentially be a top-5 back-up point guard. The only thing Paul doesn’t do is block shots. For those of you who don’t have ESPN Insider access, this is what Hollinger has to say about Paul:

  • Devastating pick-and-roll operator with superb quickness and impeccable handle.
  • Not a great shooter, but a fantastic passer and outstanding rebounder for size.
  • Disrupter with league’s fastest hands, but size limits ability to challenge shots.

The use of devastating by a stats geek makes me nervous; as it should against the Raptors who probably rank in the bottom 5 in the league in pick-n-roll defense (no stats to back that up, just from what I’ve observed).
Edge: Hornets

Shooting Guard
Remember those jumpers Belinelli used to take that induced that twitch in your eye once it clanked off the rim with a terrible thud? Those shots will be dropping tonight with maddening consistency; I know it. Marco is having a career year, and it doesn’t take a genius to realize filling the lanes in transition with Chris Paul is the cause. Not saying that Belinelli is better than DeRozan, but with how the Raptors have been playing of late, and how invisible he’s played in the last 3 losses…I don’t now where I was going, but one thing is clear; DeRozan needs to be far more consistent, and bring more to the table than a few baskets in transition.

His athleticism tonight will be nullified with the slow pace the Hornets play (91.5, second slowest in the league), and if he tries to get things moving, he has to go through a lot of quality defenders, who make a lot of quality defensive plays, before getting to the rim.
Edge: Hornets

Small Forward
Imagine ┬áPaul coming off a high pick-n-roll, and for arguments sake, lets say Amir switches on the screen since the Raptors never fight through them. Paul will take Johnson deep into the paint, waiting for the imminent Raptors defensive collapse. At which point, Kleiza decides to leave his man and pretend to play some sort of positional defense, what he doesn’t realize is that Ariza has already relocated to a better spot on the floor where Paul has telekinetically instructed him to go too. A quick dish out to Ariza for a wide open jumper, and we have ourselves the recipe for a long night. The same scenario can be applied to Belinelli and Willie Green.

Going into this game, Kleiza has lost something like 6 or 7 straight match-ups, so until he does more than a couple points/rebounds a game, and until Wright sees the light of day to make a few defensive plays, the 3 is a lost cause for us.
Edge: Hornets

Power Forward
You have to like the dudes who quietly go about their business and earn their pay in full. David West qualifies as one of these cats. He’s not flashy, and just makes things happen. Offensively, he’s a poor mans Karl Malone who comes off the roll like a pit bull. Im putting the over/under on pick-n-roll dunks at 3; its going to be nasty. The good news for the Raptors is that between Johnson, Davis, Dorsey and Bargnani (on certain match-ups) they have quite a few different looks to throw at West. Again, the front court is where the Raptors can make their stand, but the depth they have may not make up for the quality of the players and system around them.
Edge: Hornets

Center
A healthy Chandler is probably better suited as a pick-n-roll partner for Paul, but Okafor has done a pretty good job in his place. While he doesn’t possess Tyson’s raw athleticism, the guy is fundamental, and can be counted on for a double-double, as well as elite level defense in the low-block. The Wizards game was a challenging one for Bargnani who played very well against long/athletic/crazy front court. I’m starting to take him for granted because he’s consistently going about his business; with my only knock being that it would be great if his production was more pronounced (if that makes any sense). The match-up with Okafor is rife with mis-match opportunities, with rebounding being the lone challenge. While the Hornets are a good rebounding team, both West and Okafor do it rather well. Bargnani can impact the game much more with his rebounding than scoring since I suspect this will be a slower paced, more deliberate type of game.
Edge: Raptors

Keys to the Game

Aggressive Pick-n-Roll Defense
I’m anticipating another Triano f-bomb sound byte today, but there is a glimmer of hope: the weakest part of Paul’s offensive game is his jumper. If the defender of the guy setting the pick jumps out and takes away the lane, the guy getting picked sticks to the roller, and the rest of the team stays home on defense, then Chris’ options on he roll will be limited. I can live with CP3 scoring 30 If it means he isn’t getting folks involved. However, loots of ‘ifs’ and perfect defensive execution is required for this to work out.

Zone
The zone will also help battle the pick-n-roll, as well as disrupt scoring lanes. David West does like to play in the high-post, so he can bust it with some dead-eye shooting from the elbow. That being said, no matter the defensive set/strategy, the Raptors will need to play it very aggressively because of Paul’s ability to get to the ball to the right guy at the right time.

Jah
Pray to him; the Raptors struggle against speedy elite point guards who beat down their mark like a pimp does his hoe.

The Line

The gamblers have the Hornets as 8.5 point favourite with an over/under of 194. It’s not that the Raptors can’t play a slower paced game, they can, but this one has the makings of a defensive battle which doesn’t play tot he Raptors strengths. Couple in the fact that the Raptors are on a 3 game skid, and the Hornets are looking for their 5th win in a row, and this game has the makings of a tough one on Martin Luther King Jr. day. Tip off is at 3pm.