I took part in a podcast with Niall Doherty from Hornets 24/7 (I think I will be communicating more with Niall and Ryan than my family over the next week or two) and Alejandro de los Rios from various publications and we analyzed the matchups between the coaches and starting five. The podcast is posted over at Blog of New Orleans or you can click here to donwload the MP3 file.
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.
And then there were two
With their loss to the Los Angeles Lakers tonight the Utah Jazz are locked into the eighth seed and soon to be recipients of the same swift post season dismissal that the Nuggets received last season. That means that the Denver Nuggets’ list of prospective first round opponents has shrunk to include only the Dallas Mavericks and New Orleans Hornets.
At this point we have to be hoping the Nuggets end up facing the Mavericks. The only position at which the Mavs have an advantage over Denver is power forward, but even there Kenyon Martin is capable of making things tough on Dirk Nowitzki.
The clearest route for Denver and the Mavs to face off would be if Denver beats the Trail Blazers and the Rockets beat the Mavericks. Should the Rockets beat the Mavericks and the Nuggets lose, Denver will end up matching up with New Orleans regardless of whether the Hornets win at San Antonio tomorrow night or not.
Should the Mavs topple the Rockets then the outcome of the Hornets and Spurs game will decide the first round matchup. In that situation a Hornets win would keep the Mavs in the seventh spot and bring Dallas and Denver together in the first round. Should the Mavs win and the Hornets lose then Denver will battle the Hornets.
Got it? If not don’t worry, in 24 hours we will not have to worry about this crap anymore.
Credit where credit isn’t due
I spoke in glowing terms of how impressed I was of how J.R. Smith dribbled out the clock despite the fact he was only one made three pointer away from tying the record for three point shots made in a single game. Well, come to find out he said if he knew he was one shot away from tying the record he would have launched one before time expired. Had he done so it would not have been nearly as bad as when in search of triple doubles Ricky Davis took a shot at his own hoop to collect his tenth rebound of the night (which the league rescinded if I remember correctly) or when the Magic called timeout with two seconds left and a comfortable lead in order to get Donald Royal his tenth assist, but it would have been close.
Record performances should be set in the flow of the game, not through forced action at the end of games. However, on the other hand there should be some honor from the opponent as well and I thought the way J.R. was fouled three times, twice on the shot and once coming off a screen, was weak as well. No one wants to be embarrassed, but if someone is kicking your can for one night, play your butt off and take the results like a man.
Even so, J.R. could have chucked up one more attempt to build on his career high, but chose not to so he deserves recognition for that if not for knowingly passing on a shot that could have tied an NBA record.
Draft pick disco
With the results over the previous few days the Nuggets have been left without a first round pick in the upcoming 2009 NBA Draft. The Oklahoma City Thunder will have the Nuggets’ first rounder, currently number 26, this season as part of the Johan Petro deal. However, the Nuggets get the Thunder’s second round pick, number 34, as part of the deal as well. The draft is a crap shoot at that point anyway and the second round pick is free of the encumbrance of a guaranteed contract.
The bigger news is that the Charlotte Bobcats failed to make the playoffs and that means they retain their first round pick they owe Denver for acquiring the twentieth pick from Denver in last year’s draft. I believe that is very good news because it keeps hope alive that Denver may get a top ten, or higher, pick in the future.
The Nuggets made that deal knowing it was a potential lottery ticket and if it had paid off this season with the fifteenth pick I guarantee they would have been disappointed. The downside is Larry Brown did have that team on the verge of the postseason and it is possible they make it next season and Denver gets a pick in the mid to high teens next season. Nevertheless, as long as Charlotte owes Denver a pick and Michael Jordan is prominently involved in the decision making of that franchise we can hold out hope that in four years the Nuggets have the first overall pick thanks to the incompetence of the Bobcats.
New winter destination for New Yorkers
With the announcement that Isiah Thomas will be taking over as head coach of Florida International you can count on New Yorkers booking some winter vacations to Miami for the warm weather and the chance to rain boos and other insults upon the bumbling Thomas.
Win an autographed Carmelo Anthony jersey
We have all heard the phrase the hoop has a lid on it. Well Perfect Jumper markets various products that fit on top of the rim in order to force the shooter to be more accurate in order to put the ball in the rim. Right now they are giving away an autographed Carmelo Anthony jersey and you can enter until April 30.
They also held an online three point shooting contest where whoever could make the most three pointers in 30 seconds won a jersey autographed by Steve Nash and a couple of their products.
On a related note you can also enter to win a pair of gently used boxers signed by yours truly at GoofySideSpinBrick.com.
There is one less team in the west for the Denver Nuggets to worry about. Manu Ginobil is out for the season. I guess all those years of flopping have taken their toll. How sweet would a second round series against Manu-less Spurs team be? I guess this is not their odd season.
No pressure, just play your game…or not
I am writing this at halftime of the national championship game and Michigan State is down 21.
How can Michigan State play this poorly? The entire state of Michigan is in the toilet. They are playing in front of 50,000 fans whose lives completely suck and need them to win more than they need Toyota and Honda to fold. Didn’t they hear all the talk about how big of a game this is for people in Michigan? Even Michigan grads are cheering for them. They only talked about it for two whole days. Don’t they understand how big of a deal this is? The whole state needs them to win so badly. Come one, put the weight of the entire state on your young shoulders. What is wrong with you guys?
Updated Holicky Projection (pre Manu injury announcement)
The Nuggets are the hottest team in the L over the last 10. If they go 3-1 over the last 4, they clinch 2nd. The worst they can now finish is 6th. If they go 2 and 2 they clinch home court and 3rd (barring something very bizarre.) In fact, they can lose the next three and then beat Portland in the last game and they get 3rd.
Denver 52-26 4 games remaining.
San Antonio 49-27 Magic Number = 3.
Houston 49-28 Magic Number = 3.
Portland 48-28 Magic Number = 2.
NO 47-29 Magic Number = 1.
Utah 47-30 Magic Number = 0.
Dallas 46-31 Magic Number = 0
Suns 42-35 Magic Number = 0
Final standings (see below)
LA 60+ wins
SA 55 wins
Denver 54 wins
Houston 53 wins
Portland 52 wins
Jazz 51 wins
NO 49 wins
Dallas 48 wins
Suns 46 wins
· If Denver and anyone finish tied for the three seed, and Denver wins the division, Denver wins the tie breaker.
· Because Denver wins the tiebreaker with Portland and they play the last game of the season, if Denver wins that game they almost certainly finish ahead of them.
· If the Nuggets go 3-1 the rest of the way they clinch 2nd.
· Utah wins any potential tiebreaker with New Orleans, so first round matchup would be Nuggets/Utah.
· Sun wins the tiebreaker with the Mavs, so if they end up tied, it goes to the Suns.
Denver has 52 wins
Ok City W
Denver finishes with 54 wins
Utah has 47 wins
@ Mavs W
@ Spurs L
@ Lakers W (will the Lakers be shut down?)
Utah finishes with 51 wins
Houston has 49 wins
@ Kings W
@ Warriors W
@ Mavs W
Houston finishes with 53 wins
Dallas has 46 wins
@ NO L
Dallas finishes with 48 wins
Suns have 42 wins
@ NO L
@ Grizzlies W
@ Wolves W
Phoenix finishes with 46 wins
Hornets have 47 wins
@ Heat L
@ Mavs L
@ Houston L
@ Spurs L
Hornets finish with 49 wins
Portland has 48 wins
@ Griz W
@ Spurs L
@ Clippers W
Portland finishes with 52 wins
San Antonio has 49 wins
@ Thunder W
@ Kings W
@ Warriors W
San Antonio finishes with 55 wins.
Thanks again to Mr. Holicky for putting all of that together for us.