Nuggets vs Hornets – Initial Thoughts

First off make sure you carve out some time to take part in a live chat here at RMC featuring Niall Doherty and Ryan Schwan from the exceptional blog Hornets 24/7 tonight (Thursday) at 7:00 PM Mountain.  You can ask questions or just read along.  You choose your own level of involvement just like Project Mayhem in Fight Club.

I am not sure any of us should be excited about the fact the Nuggets drew the New Orleans Hornets in the first round.  While it is true the Hornets have been struggling down the stretch run they are a very dangerous team.  The only major difference between this season and last was health.  During the 2007-08 season during which the Hornets won 56 games to earn the second seed in the west, Peja Stojakovic played 77 games and Tyson Chandler played in 79.  This season Peja appeared in only 61 games largely due to a balky back and Chandler was on the floor for only 45 contests thanks to a bum ankle. 

Tyson Chandler is back having played in the season finale last night in San Antonio and in his 45 appearances this season the Hornets are 30-15 on the season, a 55 win pace, compared to 19-14 without him.  We all know how deadly Chris Paul can be running the pick and roll and he is only that much better with Chandler flying down the lane towards the rim.  Defensively Chandler has never blocked more than 1.8 shots a game in his career, but he is a great rebounder and also adds a presence in the lane that the Hornets lack otherwise.

Peja’s health issues has had a major impact on the Hornets’ three point shooting.  Last season New Orleans was in a statistical dead heat for the league lead in three point shooting percentage by hitting 38.9% from behind the arc.  This season they are a very mediocre 36.4%.  If you look at their individual shooting percentages they are all very similar to last season except for one.  Peja dropped from 44.1% last season to a still respectable, but un-Peja like 37.8% this season.  He has seemingly recovered, but he has only made one of his previous ten three point attempts so either his back is still bothering him or he is ready to bust out.  Only time will tell.

Turning to the Nuggets Melo has struggled with various schemes and individual defenders in the playoffs over the years.  I think finally he has a good matchup.  He will be covered primarily by Peja and James Posey.  We all know Peja has no chance covering Melo, but I do not think Posey can hang with him either.  Posey has a rep of being a very good defender, but he does not have the quickness or strength to cover Melo one on one.  They way Melo has been attacking the rim and posting up more frequently over the previous couple of weeks I think he has a big series.

Also the Nuggets have shown good progress over the course of the season in defending the pick and roll.  Paul will always get his assists, but over the last two meetings, both in New Orleans, the Nuggets forced him into committing five turnovers in one game and six in the other.  If the Nuggets can continue that success they will be in great shape.

Finally, I believe the Nuggets have one major intangible on their side and that is the red hot desire to finally win a first round playoff series.  We have seen changes, some big (Chauncey Billups), some small (a slight uptick in Melo’s defense, George Karl standing during many games) in this team since last season and they have all been spurred by the desire to make a move in the playoffs.  This is the year for that to happen and the players know it.  I think we will see a focus and drive that we have not seen from them before.

Do not get me wrong, Chris Paul is a competitor and his will to win may be stronger than any individual Nugget player and David West is a fighter as well, but collectively I do not see the Hornets matching the Nuggets’ desire and that is a huge key to this matchup.  We have seen how powerful the Nuggets can be when they play with focus and I think we are going to see a very focused group.

We have two more days until game day so look for plenty more coverage to come from the chat tonight to some video, a podcast appearance or two and the answers to questions not everyone will be asking such as can James Posey replace the great play the Hornets received last post season from Jannero Pargo? 

Update:  Hornets 24/7 has an incredible rundown of news covering both the Nuggets and Hornets and Andrew at Denver Stiffs lays out a blueprint for what the Nuggets must do differently this year to succeed in the playoffs.

  • BeefySwats

    Oh god, I’m so excited for this. First HCA for the Nugs in 20 years, against a team I think we can finally beat in the first round (saying that, they are a very good team), and all the way to the 2nd round against either the Spurs or the Mavs.

    Denver has a chance to go all the way to the WCF this year. What a season.

    Thanks for all your hard work documenting everything Nuggets this season Jeremy, from the highs – beating the Lakers by 11, crushing the Blazers at home by 16 – to the lows of losing to Sacramento and the Celtics as badly as we did.

    No matter what comes of this postseason, thank you again for keeping us informed. I will definitely be around in the offseason and for the playoffs.

    GO NUGGETS!!! :D

  • Josh Hopp

    What a collossal disaster it will be if we fail to beat the Hornets in the first round. We have home court advantage but the Hornets and Byron Scott will be equally devastated to be dismissed in the first round. They feel like they can beat us, they have some incredible pieces and if they all come together they could beat us. We need absolute focus defensively and discipline offensively. EVERYTHING the Hornets do runs through Chris Paul, whether it’s his mastery of the pick and roll or his ridiculously underratted offensive skills. We need to play him aggressively and frustrate him, and our perimeter defense needs to be sharp if we are going to keep Peja, Butler and West out of the game. Please Nuggets, do not let your devoted fans down again. Not now. Not this season. Not after everything that has gone down…

  • CCH

    I personally think this is the best matchup we could have. These guys are really slumping, and have lost alot of confidence( not to say our last 3 games helped our cause). I don’t see Chandler being a threat especially on %70 health and extremely rusty. Nene should be able to punish him on the offensive end, granted we play through Nene and don’t revert to our me first ways ( PLEASE CHAUNCEY DONT LET THIS HAPPEN). It’s going to be fun watching JR and Bird play with chips on their shoulders as well. How great would it be too see the hornets outcasts knock them out in the first round, BEAUTIFUL!!!

    I also found a interesting article on hoopsworld examining the hornets mental state:
    http://www.hoopsworld.com/Story.asp?STORY_ID=12265

  • Josh Hopp

    With respect CCH, we say that about Nene all the time when he is matched up against a physically inferior center, but he never seems to the able to dominate the way we would like him to, particularly on offense. We need him so step up in a big way for us. He has been a pleasant surprise for us this regular season but its PLAYOFF time and he needs to earn his money.