The Back Story:
The Big Picture:
A lot has changed since these two teams met eight days ago in LA. The Hornets have a new coach and they are missing an All Star point guard. The Clippers were riding a three game winning streak going into the last game. Now they've lost three of four, although the one win was at the start of the current trip Sunday in Oklahoma. The Clippers exacted revenge on the Thunder in that one, winning a close game in the fourth quarter just the way OKC had done in LA. So let's hope that the palindrome trip continues the same way - with an inverse result tonight as well. So if the Hornets blew the Clippers out in LA, it's time to blow them out in the Big Easy, right? The Clippers managed to play well down the stretch against the Thunder, and that was the difference between winning and losing. They also got big games from Chris Kaman and Baron Davis (which is pretty much a prerequisite to be competitive as long as Eric Gordon and Blake Griffin remain sidelined) and a nice boost from Al Thornton, who is showing signs of life. The Hornets are in disarray and are below mediocre without Chris Paul. This is a winnable game.
The Hornets have only won once in their last six games - guess who that victim was? But if they were on life support before, they're flatlining without Chris Paul. Before he got hurt, he was averaging 24 points and 9 assists, shooting 59% from the field and 66% from three. In his absence, the Clippers will see their second straight UCLA point guard, Wussell Restbwook's college teammate Dawen Cowison. Baron got the better of Restbwook last night - and he's way too strong for Cowison, so look for the Clippers to get him the ball a lot. In the first game, poor perimeter defense let the Hornets make seven threes in the first quarter, and journeyman Devin Brown scored a career high 25 points. Brown will not make five threes and score a career high tonight. I guarantee it. The fact is that the Clippers do need to stay home on shooters, especially Peja Stojakovic, who has been known to destroy LA. But without Paul, I'm not sure who is going to be able to get their shot tonight. David West is obviously the number one option, but the Clippers will be able to devote a lot of defensive attention to him. If Marcus Camby can resist the temptation to float back to the rim looking for blocked shots and rebounds and instead focus on stopping West, it should be a long night for the New Orleans offense. Should. We'll see.
- Darren Collison and Marcus Thornton. The Hornets have come up relatively empty in the draft since they stole Paul with the fourth pick in 2005. Lottery picks Hilton Armstrong, Cedric Simmons and Julian Wright have all been disappointing - and they sold last year's pick. But they like the pair of guards they found this season, getting Collison at 21 and Thornton from LSU at 43 (they got his rights in a trade with Miami). Playing time was sparing for the rookies early - one of the reasons that Byron Scott is now at home relaxing. But Collison is necessarily thrust into the limelight now with Paul out, and Thornton is getting some burn with the ineffective Morris Peterson being relegated to the inactive list. The two rookies combined for 38 points last week in Portland. I saw them play against the Clippers in summer league in Vegas (sitting next to some of Collison's Etiwanda teammates, as it happens) and they both looked really good. Collison is super quick (the type has been known to give Baron trouble) and Thornton can score the ball.
- Road sweet road. The Clippers are 2-5 at home, 2-2 on the road this season. They blew a fourth quarter lead against OKC in LA; rallied in the fourth against the same team in Oklahoma. As Milph said during the Thunder telecast, when they boo you on the road, it's easier to take because you expect it. Then again, if you don't do anything worthy of boos, then the LA fans probably wouldn't boo you. But at any rate, I wouldn't mind putting together a road win streak, and it certainly looks doable with the current schedule.
- Kaman rolling. Chris Kaman's game log is pretty amazing. Scrolling through the list of the top 15 scorers in the league, all of them except one has at least one 30+ point game this season, and most of them have a 40 point outing. Not only does Kaman not have a 30+ game this season, he doesn't have a 30 point game in his career. But he's 13th in the league in scoring at 22.3 points per game because he's been the picture of consistency. Ten times in eleven games this season he has scored between 18 and 27 points - his season low being 14 against these Hornets a couple Mondays ago. The low output was owing in part to some extra fourth quarter rest - the game was out of reach and into garbage time pretty early. But he also missed 4 free throws and several bunnies. As we saw in that game, the Clippers can ill-afford for him to have an off night right now. He needs to come back strong against these guys tonight.
- Rasual Butler homecoming. Actually, this is kind of the second homecoming game in a row for Rasual. Sunday night he played in the Ford Center in Oklahoma City, which was his home when the Hornets were there. Now he's back in New Orleans, his other Hornets home. Rasual saw a lot of his minutes go to Kareem Rush Sunday, including all the crucial fourth quarter time. One assumes that Rush will get an early call tonight, and given every opportunity to earn more minutes based on his solid outing in Oklahoma City. If Butler doesn't find his shot soon, he will be playing fewer and fewer minutes.
- Novak matchup. Can Steve Novak keep up with Peja? At this point, Peja is going to run off screens for catch and shoots. He's far less likely to put the ball on the floor and beat somebody. It seems like Novak should be able to handle that defensive assignment. "It takes a thief to catch a thief." With defenses forced to Kaman in the post and Butler struggling to hit shots, the Clippers really need a legitimate outside threat on the floor. If the Hornets have someone on the floor he can defend, I want him out there.
- Al Thornton. Al had his best game of the season Monday. During one stretch in the second quarter, the Clippers ran a variation on the same play three consecutive times and got the ball low against Jeff Green on each occasion. One would hope that a similar strategy would work against Peja. When Al was struggling, I saw a guy who had lost his confidence. Al needs to be decisive, and take the shots that are there for him, hopefully without being a ball stopper. His aggressiveness on the offensive glass is an added bonus - but it would be nice if he got some defensive rebounds also.
- Hornets giving up? There was a story out of Sacramento this weekend that the Kings and Hornets were talking about an Emeka Okafor for Kenny Thomas trade. The Hornets are way over the salary cap and stand to lose a ton of money in small market New Orleans this year. (How small is New Orleans? The smallest market in the NBA. About 312K people - fewer than Sacramento or Oklahoma City. Fewer than Fresno, or Anaheim, or Santa Ana, or Long Beach, or Bakersfield for that matter.) They tried to trade Tyson Chandler for salary relief last year, but the deal fell through. When they took on Okafor's longer contract, it seemed like they were committing to a big payroll for the chance to win - if they're once again pursuing the salary dump, it does not bode well for the rest of the season. It would be great for the Clippers if the Hornets decided to get out of the 'winning basketball games' business, since they occupied one of the seats at the playoff table last year.
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- Get the Hornets perspective at the Hive.