Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Game 35: Hornets @ Nuggets

(Boulder-CO) The last time these two teams met, New Orleans escaped the Pepsi Center with a win, 115-101. This time, Denver isn’t planning on being so hospitable. The Nuggets open up their longest home stand of the season tonight with Chris Paul and the Hornets after winning three of their last four games on the road. Granted, Denver didn’t wallop the strongest of NBA competition with wins over the Thunder (barely), Raptors, and Knicks, but they were on the schedule and the Nuggets took care of business.

The Hornets are team also riding a nice wave of momentum. New Orleans has won its last four straight games since dropping one to the Orlando Magic and have done so with some very stingy defense. Aside from allowing their opposition just 86 ppg in their last four wins, the Hornets are holding opponents to an average of 88.6 points and just 43.6% shooting from the field while winning eleven of their last 14 games. Offensively, the Hornets have had four different players step up and lead the team in scoring in their last four games as well. However, if there is one thing we can bet on it’s Chris Paul, the NBA’s leading set-up man, leading the Hornets in assists as he has in all 29 games so far for New Orleans.

J.R. Smith had an incredible game the last time these two teams met. Perhaps it was because he feels he has something to prove to the team that dealt him to Chicago for next to nothing, but after last night’s lack luster performance by the Prodigy. The Nuggets sure could use Smith to return to his usual self. Last night, Smith looked out of control and out of synch as he committed a team-high three turnovers while scoring just seven points. He also didn’t record a single rebound, steal, or assists while making some very poor decisions defensively. The Nuggets will need Smith to have another performance like the season-high 32 points, five rebounds, and four assists he poured in the first time these two teams met to win against a very well-rounded New Orleans squad.

And while we’re one the topic of well-roundedness, the Nuggets were not the last time these two teams met. Denver only had three players score in double figures back on November 27th whereas the Hornets had five, including four out of five starters.

The good news for the Nuggets is New Orleans starting big man, Tyson Chandler may not be able to play tonight after being whistled for a flagrant-2 foul for delivering a forearm shiver to Portland’s Joel Pryzbilla. The official ruling hasn’t been made yet, but if he is suspended for tonight’s game it weighs heavily in Denver’s favor because Nene will not have to battle with the defensive minded Chandler.

Aside from that pending match-up, the next battle to watch (even if they don’t match-up head-to-head) will be Carmelo Anthony and David West. Carmelo should be brimming with confidence after hitting his ninth career game-winning shot last night and comes into tonight’s game averaging 24.8 points per game along with 6.8 rebounds and three assists over his last four games. Furthermore, he’s done so by shooting 46.1% from the field which includes a dismal 4-17 performance in the last Denver loss to the Hawks. David West is also playing great basketball as of his last five games with averages of 19.8 points, 6.6 rebounds, and just 1.6 turnovers while shooting nearly 50% from the field. He’s also playing an average of 40 minutes per game over the last five-game stretch and has only missed three free-throws in his last 22 trips to the charity stripe. We may very well be looking at the two best small forwards in the Western Conference tonight and the game may be won by the team whose All-Star plays the best.

My final note is concerning Chris Paul. It’s no secret that Paul is my favorite player in the NBA today. He’s not humanly capable of being stopped, so the Nuggets best bet is to try and contain him. If he is held, in any statistical category, under his current averages of 19.8 points, 11.5 assists, 5.4 rebounds, 2.9 steals, and 2.8 turnovers the Nuggets have given themselves a tremendous advantage to winning the game. The turnover department is an area that I think the Nuggets can try to disrupt what affect Paul can have on a game. The Hornets are currently the safest team in the NBA with the ball and CP3 has everything to do with that. If Denver can force a slew of New Orleans turnovers I think their chances of winning the game go up exponentially for every miscue the force.

Regardless of any of my ramblings, five of the last six meetings between the Nuggets and Hornets in the Mile High City have been decided by seven points or fewer so we should be in for a great game.

Go Nuggets!

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