The Back Story:
First meeting of the season. New Orleans swept the season series last year 3-0.
The Big Picture:
The Clippers have won three straight to run their record to 3-4 after opening the season with four losses. Of course, all the losses came against teams with winning records last season, and all the wins came against teams with losing records. New Orleans is an interesting case - they were 49-33 last year, but they've opened this season 2-5, so it's hard to say if they're a good team or a bad team. Nonetheless, they figure to be a stiffer test than the Wolves, Warriors or Grizzlies. The Clippers have been getting great play from Chris Kaman, with strong support from Baron Davis, Eric Gordon and Marcus Camby. Unfortunately, Gordon is listed as doubtful for this game with a sore groin muscle. That would be a serious blow to the Clippers, as Gordon is their second leading scorer, best perimeter defender, and most consistent player. So far in the young season, the team has simply looked much better with him on the court. If EJ can't play, it will make the climb back to .500 that much tougher, and the Clippers will have to have a strong game from Baron to get there.
The Hornets are broken right now. The cost-cutting that led them to ship Rasual Butler to the Clippers for nothing has already backfired, as Morris Peterson, his replacement in the starting lineup, was demoted after just six games. That leaves them playing the likes of NBA journeyman Devin Brown or the very inexperienced Bobby Brown at the two. Still, it's suprising how quickly and how far the Hornets seem to have dropped. They still have megastar Chris Paul and all-star David West, and Emeka Okafor is arguably an upgrade over Tyson Chandler. Frankly, they didn't have much more than that the last couple of seasons when they averaged 50+ wins. At any rate, don't count them out yet, despite their 2-5 start. Last night against the Lakers they were terrible, which may be a bad sign for the Clippers, as they will surely be motivated to play well and erase the memory of that mess. One good sign for the Clippers is that New Orleans has opened the season 0-4 on the road. Hopefully it takes them a little while longer to figure out how to win a road game.
- If Gordon is out. If Eric Gordon is unable to play, I expect that Rasual Butler will slide over to the two and Al Thornton will return to the starting lineup. However, another way to go would be to start Sebastian Telfair at the point, and slide Baron Davis over to the two. Starting Telfair is a distinct possibility, as he might be the best guy to stick on Paul. Baron had a terrible time defending quick ones last season, but now that he's trimmer perhaps he can do a better job of keeping up this year. Expect both Telfair and Thornton to get more minutes, and there may be a Ricky Davis sighting as well.
- Staples back-to-backs. Does anyone else feel like there have been an inordinate number of Lakers-Clippers back-to-back opponents games in the first two weeks of the season? After Dallas and Memphis, the Hornets are the third opponent to play the Clippers a day after playing the Lakers on the same floor. I always thought these Staples back-to-backs were a relatively rare occurrence.
- Rasual's former teammates. One presumes that Rasual Butler will have a little extra motivation tonight. Not that he can blame his Hornets teammates or even Byron Scott for the fact that the team decided to save a little money on his contract. But players invariably want to do well against their former teams.
- Chris Paul. It's early yet, but Paul is scoring more - a lot more - than he has previously. After seven games, he's averaging 26.6 points per game. His previous season-high was last year, at 22.8. He's also making a lot of three pointers - 13 for 18 so far. It all raises interesting questions: like, how do you stop Chris Paul if he's a genuine three point threat? But more philosophically, is Chris Paul really more effective if he's scoring more? Or rather, are the Hornets better if Paul is scoring more? The early results would indicate no.
- Kaman vs. Okafor. Chris Kaman has scored 20+ points in 6 straight games, a streak 4 games longer than his previous career high if you can believe that. However, several of those games came against size and defense challenged front lines like Phoenix and Golden State and Minnesota. Emeka Okafor is a top notch low post defender and will make Kaman work hard for his points. Still, the way Kaman is playing right now, the Hornets will have to double him even with Okafor defending.
- A more reasonable schedule. After a feast or famine cycle in the first seven games (five games in seven nights, followed by three days off, followed by another back to back) the Clippers upcoming schedule consists of game-rest-game-rest-game-rest-game-rest-game - five games with a single rest day in between for the next nine days. I don't know if it will make a difference for the team, but it will make a difference for me. Writing a preview for the next game AFTER writing a recap for the last one sucks.
- Hornets vs. Lakers. As I mentioned above, the Hornets looked terrible against the Lakers last night. I only watched the third quarter, which I gather was the ugliest of the ugly for NOH, but they looked totally disjoint on both offense and defense. And this was against a Lakers team playing without Pau Gasol or Andrew Bynum. Can Byron Scott light a fire under them before their meeting with the Clippers? Or are they really that bad?
I can't believe I didn't see it before. You're the Fabulous Hudson Hornet! You hold the record for most wins in a single season. Oh, man, we gotta talk. You have to show me some of your tricks.
- Get the Hornets perspective at the Hive.