Monday, January 12, 2009

This Post Is Prologue: Knicks @ Hornets

Knicks (13-22)
Hornets (22-11)
New Orleans Arena
8:00 p.m.

After two uneven performances in Texas, coming on the heels a terribly flat showing in Oklahoma City, the Knickerbockers take their traveling sideshow down to the Big Easy to face the should-be 2007-2008 MVP Chris Paul and the New Orleans Hornets. I honestly have no idea what to expect from this game. The first half the of the @Mavs tilt(mostly energetic and completely competitive) have combined with the first and second halves of the @Thunder and @Rockets games, respectively, to fry my brain. I would not condone gambling on this game, even though that +11.5 for the road team is pretty tempting. To be honest, I don't even know if I condone watching this game with the 24 on television at the same time. But, if push came to shove I would probably condone the gambling over the watching. I mean, Jack Bauer might bite someone's throat out tonight. And you don't want to miss that because you were watching Jared Jeffries try to defend Chris Paul.

As (was briefly) per usual, I've been trading emails today with a blogger who covers the Knicks' opponent. Below you'll find a back-and-forth with noted Hornets blog At the Hive.

WWOD?: The Hornets are currently fourth in the West and second in their division but don't seem to be generating nearly as much buzz as other contenders. Is this good/bad/indifferent? Are the Hornets still legit contenders for the 2008-2009 NBA title? What are the expectations in New Orleans?
@Hive: I guess [the lack of buzz is] good if you believe in the whole "sneaking up on people" deal. Bad, if you consider the reason they haven't generated buzz is that other teams have simply been better than them. The expectations going into the season were at least Conference Finals, maybe Finals if we played well. Right now, it seems like we'd be happy just getting into the Conference Finals (and getting swept there or whatever). Overall, this team isn't too different from last year's incarnation; you could make a reasonable argument that it's actually better, given good health. The one thing that has us Hornets fans down though is the number of blowout losses we've sustained to other contenders. Sure we beat the Lakers... once. In the meanwhile, we've been down by 30 (at some point in the game) to Houston, Utah, Denver, Orlando, and L.A. (twice).

WWOD?: Six of the team's 11 losses came in November. On their own, none of the losses seem that bad and the team never dropped more than two in a row but something seemed not to have been right in the Big Easy. What, if anything, was happening during that month?
@Hive: If you could point to one thing, it would d have to be Tyson Chandler. He sat out games for a variety of reasons- injury, family, etc.- and really messed up the whole rhythm of the team. New Orleans relies perhaps more heavily than any other team upon a single player for its offensive rebounding. With him missing time, the team was just struggling. On top of that, David West was a bit slow out the gate, but he's recovered since.

WWOD?: I'm a tremendous admirer of Chris Paul. I even purchased a CP3 T-shirt from last postseason (with a gift certificate from my grandma) to wear while watching the Hornets take on the Spurs in the playoffs. He's awesome and was where I looked for positive play when there was only so much of the 2007-2008 Knicks that I could handle. This isn't a question. I just wanted you to know that.
@Hive: Hahaha.

WWOD?: True or false: the loss of Jennaro Pargo and the acquisition of James Posey was a net loss for your squad. And, how did Pargo end up in Russia?
@Hive: Way, way, way false. I've always maintained that Pargo was a really bad basketball player. He registered the lowest true shooting percentage of any player in the NBA last year! He shot the ball a lot and scored some, so it gave the illusion of a great scoring option off the bench. The most popular catchphrase about him was "oh, he can go off for 20 points whenever he wants!" Yeah... if you define "whenever he wants" as once every 25 games, and include 24 games of the worst basketball imaginable in between. Simply having Daniels on the team instead of Pargo is a net loss, let alone adding Posey.

WWOD?: Earlier this season, noted sports-person Bill Simmons wrote about discord on the Hornets, specifically a rift between Paul and head coach Byron Scott? Is there any truth to this or did Simmons just decide to spin one hour of watching a team play one road game into a definitive statement regarding their overall well-being?
@Hive: Yeah, he pretty much decided to draw some conclusions from an hour of play.

WWOD?: What's your take on Scott?
@Hive:He's benched one of the better prospects from last year's draft - Julian Wright- in virtually every game this season (this is after Wright had a tremendous close to last year, including the playoffs). He routinely gives out DNPCD's to Morris Peterson, who was great at spacing the floor last year, connected on 40% of his threes, and generally played great man defense. He insists on giving Devin Brown - a total black hole on offense- 16 minutes a game. Oh, and he insists on drawing up plays that end in Brown shooting threes, where he's gone 6-41 this season. So there's a lot of downside. There's no denying his design of a near perfect offense for Paul/Chandler/West/Stojakovic to operate in. You gotta take the good with the bad, I guess.

WWOD?: Is this year's Hornets team as good as last year's squad? Can they be better?
@Hive: I'd say they're at least as good. It really all depends on Chandler at this point. If he can return to last year's levels, this team is a good deal better than last year's. If he doesn't, it's about even.

WWOD?: I'm fully aware of Paul, David West, Tyson Chandler and Peja but who don't I know about on your club? Which player(s), that doesn't get the national pub he deserves, should I keep an eye on tonight?
@Hive:Rasual Butler has been lighting it up this year. Last year, he was benched the entire season with Byron Scott citing things like "attitude" and the like. He began the offseason with some embarrassing gun charge, and it really looked like his time with New Orleans was done. Then he showed up to camp super motivated, took Mo-Pete's starting role when he got hurt, and just ran with it. He's now getting as many, if not more, looks at three than Peja, and he's delivering.

WWOD?: If it were up to you, would your team be known as the New Orleans Jazz?
@Hive:I have to say no, but that would be an awesome name. Personally, I've been a fan since the mid-90's, so I can't think of this team in any other terms than the Hornets. But New Orleans Jazz would have to be hands down the best team name in the league, right?
[WWOD? Note: Actually it would be the second-best name.]

WWOD?: Remember when the Hornets were in the Eastern Conference? That was weird. With a relatively short history of pro hoops in your city what is the fan relationship to this club? Was last season a turning point? Where does CP3 fit in the NOLA sports pantheon with a guy like Deuce McCallister?
@Hive: Yeah, last year was definitely a turning point. It used to just be higher attendance when LBJ, Kobe, those guys came to town. About halfway through people realized... hey wait! There's this guy called Chris Paul and he visits to the stadium every night! Getting to the playoffs and beating the Mavericks certainly helped with that. CP3 has to be right up there in the sports pantheon. For a while it was the dual NBA/NFL thing with him and Reggie Bush, but then Reggie kind of fell off the face of the earth. So now it's pretty much him.

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