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Well now that teams are clinching divisions and spots in the postseason I thought it would be cool to go ahead and preview each team that is going to be a part of the 2009 NBA Postseason. I will do one for each team as they clinch a playoff spot and since we already have teams that have clinched, we will start with them. Now we will continue with a team, after some heroics last night, clinched a playoff spot for the second consecutive season: the New Orleans Hornets.
When you speak of the Hornets, the first thing that comes to mind (and rightfully so) is starting point guard Chris Paul. Paul has been the motor for the Hornets the past two seasons, and as a result of his performance they're in the playoffs for the second straight season. Paul has always been the quintessential point guard, making the right play for a teammate in the right position and ensuring involvement from all in the offense. Coach Byron Scott, a coach who has been to the NBA finals before, knows to let Paul control the offense, and Paul does so very effeciently. This year, Paul has improved on both his jump shot and also on the defensive end of the court. Along with Paul's emergence as a defender, and also the acquisition of good team defenders with championship experience in James Posey, Antonio Daniels and Devin Brown has been the Hornets emergence as a defensive force in the NBA.
This year, the Hornets have elevated their status as a defensive team, and are in the top five in the league in terms of points allowed. Byron Scott knows what it takes to win a championship, having won three as a player with the Lakers. The Hornets have been criticized for slowing the game down a lot this year, and some say playing away from their strengths, but when games slow down in the playoffs this year the Hornets will be adept at playing that style and won't look as desperate as they did last year when the games slowed down and got more physical. One thing that's most important to the half court offense is effecient jump shooters and the Hornets have plenty of those in fellow All Star David West and capable three point shooters in Rasual Butler, Peja Stojakovic, Morris Peterson, and Paul. Also, because of their style of play, the Hornets have shown that they can win anywhere in the NBA, boasting a 21-17 road record.
Because the Hornets go as Paul goes, it's no secret that the Hornets have an uncanny overreliance on Chris Paul when they're on the floor. In moments where Paul goes to the bench, the offense looks stagnant, predictable and boring and it shows in the Hornets 2nd quarter point totals. David West is capable of masking Paul's absence on the court, but his back injury has limited his effectiveness in the paint this year and he seems to have fallen in love with the jump shot that was merely a weapon last year. West's infatuation with the 20 foot jump shot is the prime example of a Hornets squad that simply cannot score in the paint. They have players that can finish around the basket, but aside from West and the rarely used Melvin Ely, Sean Marks, Hilton Armstrong, and Ryan Bowen aren't going to become focuses of the defense with their back to the basket game.
One of the biggest reasons why the Hornets struggle so much in the paint is because of the absence of Tyson Chandler for the majority of this season. The Hornets record when Chandler plays is strikingly better than that with him out of the lineup, but unfortunately his injury looks like it will prevent him from playing in the postseason, or playing effectively in the playoffs, this season. A big reason for the Hornets surge last year was health, and this year has been the complete opposite. Paul's nursing an injured groin, West is nursing an injured back, Chandler an ankle, Stojakovic a back, and Peterson has barely played this year with a bad leg. Last season's starters have missed a total of 101 games this season, as opposed to 22 being missed between the five last season. Posey's recent elbow troubles have also highlighted a huge problem for the Hornets, a serious lack of depth. None of the second unit players are very reliable scoring the basketball aside from Posey, and he's not necessarily in the game to score. They have great defensive depth, but they don't have anyone who can score off of the bench.
Why They Will Win It
The Hornets go as far as Chris Paul brings them, and he's one of the most consistent and effecient players in the game. He and David West have been incredibly reliable this year and really have carried this squad to where it is. The ressurection of Rasual Butler this year gives the Hornets a shooting guard that can play huge minutes and who is a more reliable option offensive and defensively than Morris Peterson was last season. Also, this is a team that has experience from last season's squad, and also the addition of players like Posey, Daniels, Brown, Marks and Ely who have all previously won championships as well. In addition to having a coach who has succeeded as both a player and at his current position, the Hornets are a disciplined, dedicated squad and they give themselves a chance to win every game.
Why They Won't Win It
As reliable as Paul and West are, there isn't a third player on this team that is reliable at all. To win a championship, you need at least a handful of players that are playing great basketball in order to carry you through four rounds of the postseason. Injuries may have prevented the Hornets from developing any kind of groove and probably is the biggest reason why the squad has no consistent third option, seeing as how Peja was that player last year. A lack of depth and a lack of frontcourt players can't be masked in the postseason and the Hornets have to work extra hard to make up for that.
The Hornets are a team that's built for the postseason. If Chandler does come back, they have a squad that plays great defense, is effecient shooting the basketball and has one of the best players in the game in Chris Paul and a player who never shies away from the big shots in David West. However, a lack of depth and consistency has plagued the Hornets all season long, and there's not enough time to get everyone back and develop any kind of chemistry this season. Injuries really hurt this team, and it's arguable that Scott and Paul have done a better job this year than they did last season. However, it isn't conceivable that the Hornets can win a championship this year at less than full strength. They're a team that can win a few playoff series, but just like last year, they're going to wear down and a lack of options is going to do this team in.
The next team to clinch will be covered in the next preview.