Tag:New Orleans Hornets
Posted on: April 15, 2011 2:32 am
Edited on: April 15, 2011 2:37 am

Hornets-Lakers preview: Champs get their wish

A preview of the first round playoff series between the Los Angeles Lakers and the New Orleans Hornets. Posted by Ben Golliver.


I. Intro: No. 7 seed New Orleans Hornets (46-36) vs. No. 2 seed Los Angeles Lakers (57-25)

The difference between the two teams in this series is simple. The Los Angeles Lakers think they have it bad. The New Orleans Hornets actually do have it bad. 

The Lakers enter the postseason just 2-5 in their last seven games, they lost a backup point guard to chicken pox and nearly lost their starting center to yet another knee injury. Only a Kobe Bryant last-second three-pointer on Wednesday night saved the Lakers from slipping to the West’s No. 3 seed and a much tougher series with the Portland Trail Blazers. The Hornets, though, actually do have it bad. After beginning the season 11-1, the Hornets have played exactly .500 ball (35-35) since late-November. They’ve lost their best interior player, David West, to a season-ending knee injury and their franchise point guard, Chris Paul, has dealt with fluid in his surgically repaired knee, closing the season averaging just 7.3 points per game and shooting 31% from the field in the team’s last four games.

One team's problems are clearly much weightier.

II. What Happened: A look at the season series

It’s fair to say that the two-time defending champs dismantled the Hornets during their regular season match-ups, sweeping all four games. The Lakers averaged 101.8 points per game in the victories while holding the Hornets to just 91.0 points per game, making for a colossal 10.8 point average margin of victory. All four wins came since the end of December so they are fairly representative. 

Remarkably, the Lakers have shot poorly from deep – just 29.7% as a team – and yet still managed to shoot 51.0% overall from the field, a testament to how many easy buckets they've generated thanks to the interior advantage LA’s big men possess over the short-handed and undersized Hornets front line. Meanwhile, New Orleans has shot just 43.7% from the floor and really struggled from deep in three of the four meetings. Nothing came easy for the Hornets even though they did a decent job of taking care of the basketball. Add all of those numbers and it just screams "blatant talent disparity."

III. The Easy Stuff: The Laker bigs are overwhelming

First: credit where credit is due. New Orleans’ two best big healthy big men – Emeka Okafor and Carl Landry – have both fared pretty well against the Lakers this season. Okafor slapped up averages of 12.3 points and 10.3 rebounds while Landry added 14.8 points and 6.8 rebounds. Combined, that’s pretty solid production for a team that’s lacking a go-to inside scorer now that West is done for the season. 

But LA’s three-headed monster of Andrew Bynum, Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom makes those numbers look puny by comparison. Together, the trio has averaged an eye-popping 51.8 points and 25.6 rebounds per game against the Hornets this year. Really, that's enough said. Gasol, in particular, has been a tough cover for the Hornets, as he’s put up 22.3 points and 12.8 rebounds per game by himself and figures to be the most difficult match-up for New Orleans given his length, versatility, mobility and skill. The only thing that could possibly stop Gasol in this series is if his teammates forget to pass him the ball.

IV. Secret of the Series: The Lakers need to show up

Los Angeles has every motivation to make quick work of the Hornets as a second round series against either the Dallas Mavericks or Portland Trail Blazers is looming. It’s quite possible that LA could get a significant amount of rest given that Dallas/Portland will likely go six or seven games. Late-season motivation has been a problem recently, as coach Phil Jackson has called out his team’s professionalism and the Lakers nearly blew a 20+ point lead against the Kings on the final night of the season, despite playoff implications being on the line. 

Ultimately, the responsibility for showing up falls to Jackson and Kobe Bryant. Not only is that pair familiar with winning, they’re familiar with the boredom that comes from winning often. They also know where the light switch is located. Expect them to flip it sooner rather than later.

V. The Dinosaur Narrative: "Andrew Bynum’s knee injury could be a game-changer"

That particular line of thinking is old and familiar, due to Bynum’s lengthy injury history, but it’s also a bit too early. Against the Hornets, the Lakers could likely win without him, shifting to a smaller lineup that would still possess a talent advantage at virtually every position. At the top of the list of reasons that New Orleans is an ideal match-up for Los Angeles is that Jackson should be able to manage Bynum’s minutes with ease, ensuring he’s fully ready for potential later round match-ups with guys like Tyson Chandler, Marcus Camby or Tim Duncan

Bynum is only said to have a bone bruise, anyway, but it's worth monitoring his progress and playing time in this New Orleans series.

VI. The Line-Item Veto: Who wins each match-up?

PG: The Hornets have one match-up advantage, and it’s a massive one. Even though he’s not playing at the top of his game, Chris Paul is a nightmare cover for any team, especially one who will rely on Derek Fisher and Shannon Brown to play more minutes than usual in Steve Blake’s indefinite absence due to chicken pox. Advantage Hornets.

SG: Kobe Bryant is the best shooting guard in the game and Marco Belinelli is not. No further discussion necessary. Advantage Lakers.

SF: LA’s small forward of the past, Trevor Ariza, faces off against LA’s small forward of the present, Ron Artest. Ariza has better numbers on the season but Artest and all of his antics and physicality will surely make his life miserable. Call this one a push.

PF: As documented above, Pau Gasol against Carl Landry is likely to get ugly in a hurry. Big advantage Lakers.  

C: Okafor’s individual numbers against the Lakers are better than Bynum’s individual numbers against the Hornets, but Gasol will spend time at the five to clear minutes for Lamar Odom off the bench. Even a Herculean performance from Okafor won’t help the Hornets keep pace here. Advantage Lakers.

Bench: Odom, a sixth man of the year candidate, plus Brown, an athletic tempo-changer are better than New Orleans’ bench, which is essentially a scrap heap up front with Wilie Green and Jarrett Jack capable of making some noise in the backcourt. Advantage Lakers.

Coach: Phil Jackson has won 11 titles as a head coach and has won 225 playoff games. Monty Williams, as talented and respected a rookie head coach as you’ll find in the NBA, has won zero playoff games as a head coach. Williams deserves some love for Coach of the Year and could become a mainstay on the sidelines for decades, but the two men don’t belong in the same sentence right now. Advantage Lakers.

VII. Conclusion

Los Angeles got its dream match-up – finally – when it put away the Kings away in overtime on the last day of the regular season. The Hornets enter the series without their All-Star forward, David West, and with question marks surrounding Chris Paul, who recently had his knee drained of fluid and was held scoreless for the first time in his career. The Hornets don’t have much of a bench and certainly can’t compete with LA’s monstrous, versatile frontline trio of Andrew Bynum, Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom. Forget about it. Prediction: Lakers in 4.

VIII. CBSSports.com Video Preview

Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers will look to defend their title as they take on Chris Paul and the New Orleans Hornets in this round 1 playoff matchup. Ian Eagle and Ken Berger preview this upcoming matchup.


Posted on: April 13, 2011 11:48 pm
Edited on: April 14, 2011 2:28 am

2011 NBA Playoff Matchups Set Wednesday

Final playoff positioning following Wednesday night's games. 
Posted by Matt Moore

All playoff matchups are set following Wednesday night's games. We've got our 16 teams seeded.
Eastern Conference:

The East is locked. For more analysis on the East, check out our discussion from Tuesday

1 Chicago vs. 8 Indiana
2 Miami vs. 7 Philadelphia
3 Boston vs. 6 New York
4 Orlando vs. 5 Atlanta

Western Conference

1 San Antonio vs. 8 Memphis
2 Los Angeles Lakers vs. 7 New Orleans
3 Dallas vs. 6 Portland
4 Oklahoma City vs. 5 Denver

The Mavericks' win over the Hornets locked Oklahoma City into the 4 seed, they'll face Denver. A Lakers win over Sacramento gets them the 2. The Hornets loss doesn't really matter, since it all came down to Memphis. Memphis t anked against the Clippers to get to the 8 spot. Memphis to the 8. The Hornets wind up 7th. 

Meanwhile, the Spurs' tank squad lost to Phoenix . Chicago finishes with the best overall record and homecourt advantage throughout the playoffs, including the Finals should they advance that far. Again, something that could come back to bite a tanking team. 

Some quick thoughts, as our series previews start tomorrow: 

Grizzlies-Spurs: Memphis may have made a brilliant manuever or doomed themselves. Manu Ginobili was injured Wednesday night, and if he's out, the Grizzlies might push the Spurs a bit. But they also ended the season in pathetic fashion, even for a tanking team. If that carries over, this could be over quickly. 

Hornets-Lakers: This is going to be short, violent, and brutal. I'll let you figure out how. Worst matchup for the underdog. 

Blazers-Mavericks: Portland fans wanted this matchup. We'll see if it works out for them. There are some good things here for Portland. If Dallas doesn't hit another gear, they could get rolled in the first round. Again. 

Nuggets-Thunder: This does not look like a great matchup on the surface for Denver. They'll have to get together and play the series of their lives, but against an inexperienced Thunder team, there's some possibility here. 

Posted on: April 13, 2011 9:50 am
Edited on: April 13, 2011 6:23 pm

Your Wednesday Morning NBA playoff scenarios

Updated playoff positioning following Tuesday night's games. 
Posted by Matt Moore

We've got 16 teams, and a lot of them are locked in place. Here's where we stand in terms of playoff positioning going into Tuesday night's games.
Eastern Conference:

The East is locked. For more analysis on the East, check out our discussion from Tuesday

1 Chicago vs. 8 Indiana
2 Miami vs. 7 Philadelphia
3 Boston vs. 6 New York
4 Orlando vs. 5 Atlanta

Western Conference

1 San Antonio vs. 8 Memphis/New Orleans
2 Dallas/Los Angeles Lakers vs. 7 Memphis/New Orleans
3 Dallas/Los Angeles Lakers/OKC vs. 6 Portland
4 Dallas/Oklahoma City vs. 5 Denver

What a mess. Though, it is less of a mess than it was yesterday. Memphis pulled Zach Randolph and Tony Allen vs. the Blazers, surrendering the sixth seed, presumably to attempt to avoid Los Angeles. It's thought that Memphis will also rest some combination of starters Wednesday night vs. the Clippers. Portland's win locks them into the sixth seed. 

The Lakers' win over "San Antonio" (I wouldn't really call that team that played the Spurs, would you?) means that Oklahoma City cannot finish second, and the Lakers cannot finish fourth. 

Before we get into contingencies for Wednesday night's results, just to review: San Antonio is locked as the 1 seed, Denver is locked as the fifth seed, and Portland is locked as the sixth seed. Those teams aren't going anywhere. 

Now, here's how Wednesday night's games shake out. 

If the Lakers beat the Kings, the Hornets beat the Mavs, and Bucks beat Thunder: The Lakers. gets the 2 seed with a one-game advantage over the Mavs, the Hornets get the 7 seed by one-game advantage/tiebreaker over Memphis, regardless of the outcome of Grizzlies-Clippers. Mavericks get the 3 seed and face the Blazers. Lakers as a 2 seed face Hornets as a 7. Grizzlies lands in the 8 and faces 1 Spurs, while the Thunder land in the 4 and face 5 Denver. 

If the Lakers beat the Kings, the Mavs beat the Hornets, and the Grizzlies beat the Clippers: The Lakers still gets the 2 seed by virtue of tie breaker over the Mavericks, who land as the 3 seed, regardless of the outcome of Bucks-Thunder, also by tiebreaker. Grizzlies get the 7 seed and will face the Lakers, Hornets fall to 8 and will face Spurs. Thunder wind up in the 4 and face 5 Nuggets. The Mavericks face the Blazers.

If the Lakers beat the Kings, the Mavs beat the Hornets, and the Grizzlies beat the Clippers: Lakers get 2 seed by tiebreaker, Mavericks land in 3 seed, Thunder get 4 and Grizzlies wind up 7. 1 Spurs face 8 Hornets, 2 Lakers play 7 Grizzlies, 3 Mavericks play 6 Blazers, and 4 Thunder play 5 Nuggets.

If the Kings beat the Lakers, the Hornets beat the Mavs, and Bucks beat Thunder: The Lakers keep the 2 seed by virtue of tiebreaker over the Mavs, the Mavericks still get the 3, and the Thunder wind up in the 4. The Hornets earn the 7 seed, while the Grizzlies fall to 8.  Spurs play Grizzlies, Lakers play Hornets, Mavericks play Blazers, and Thunder face the Nuggets. 

If the Kings beat the Lakers, the Mavericks beat the Hornets, and the Grizzlies beat the Clippers: The Mavericks slide up into the 2, the Lakers down to the 3, the Thunder into the 4, Hornets drop to 8 while Grizzlies notch themselves at 7. 1 Spurs play 8 Hornets, 2 Mavericks play 7 Grizzlies, 3 Lakers play 6 Blazers, 4 Thunder play 5 Nuggets. 

If the Kings beat the Lakers, the Mavericks beat the Hornets, and the Clippers beat the Grizzlies: The Mavericks slide up into the 2, the Lakers down to the 3, the Thunder are locked into the 4. New Orleans maintains the 7 with tiebreaker over Memphis, who drops to 8. 1 Spurs play 8 Grizzlies, 2 Mavericks play 7 Hornets, 3 Lakers play 6 Blazers, and 4 thunder play 5 Nuggets.

If the the Hornets defeat Mavericks, and the Thunder defeat Bucks:  This drops L.A., Dallas, and Oklahoma City into a three-way tie. Lakers win 2 seed regardless of their game vs. Kings by virtue of tiebreaker/ one game advantage, Thunder move into the 3, and Dallas winds up 4th. Hornets win assures them 7. 1 Spurs play 8 Grizzlies (a Hornets win makes their game irrelevant... well, more irrelevant), 2 Lakers play 7 Hornets, 3 Thunder play 6 Blazers, 4 Mavericks play 5 Nuggets. 

In short: 
Lakers win and they get the 2.

Mavericks win and Lakers lose, Mavs get the 2.

Thunder win and Mavericks lose, Thunder get the 3. 

Hornets win, they get the 7.

Grizzlies win and Hornets lose, Grizzlies get the 7. 

Complicated enough for you? Last game of the season, and still so much to decide.
Posted on: April 12, 2011 3:35 am
Edited on: April 13, 2011 8:54 am

Your Tuesday morning NBA playoff scenarios

Updated playoff positioning following Monday night's games. 
Posted by Matt Moore

We've got 16 teams, and a lot of them are locked in place. Here's where we stand in terms of playoff positioning going into Tuesday night's games. 

Eastern Conference:

The East is locked. With Miami's win over the Hawks combined with Boston's loss to the Wizards, along with the Sixers loss to the Magic, we have our first round playoff match-ups.

1 Chicago vs. 8 Indiana
2 Miami vs. 7 Philadelphia
3 Boston vs. 6 New York
4 Orlando vs. 5 Atlanta

Boston lucks out in this scenario. Without a legit center and against a weak rebounding team, their biggest concerns are mitigated, and it could allow them time to get back on their feet. Shutting down explosive stars is their business. Philadelphia, on the other hand, is the exact kind of team Miami could overlook. While the Sixers are outmatched at nearly every position outside point guard (even lacking a superior center). The Magic knew they were headed for the Hawks for weeks, same with Chicago and Indiana. 

New York landing as the six is considerably higher than many thought they would in the preseason. Philadelphia has to be unnerved they surrendered the sixth spot, but given their beginning, it's still a win. 

A likely Easteron Conference semi-finals series between Boston and Miami would begin with Game 1 in the great state of Florida. 

Western Conference: 

Things are much more liquid in the Western Conference. Denver's win over Golden State secures Denver in the fifth seed. The Spurs locked up the No. 1 seed a week ago. Other than that, everything's up in the air. Dallas' win over Houston after L.A.'s loss to the Thunder Sunday puts the 2 seed back in play. The Mavericks are now a half-game ahead of the Lakers for homecourt in a theoretical second round. The pressure is now on L.A. to break their five-game losing streak and close out the season to secure that seed. But then, lowering themselves to actually trying in games like this are not really the Lakers style. 

And oh, look at that, Oklahoma City is only a half game behind the Lakers. If the Lakers lose out, it's possible L.A. could wind up in the fourth spot, as crazy as that is. 

Meanwhile, as Denver is the dividing line between the insanity up-top and the looniness on the bottom, there's a continuing shuffling in spots 6-8. Portland remains in the driver's seat for the sixth seed. With the Hornets' loss to the Jazz, which was about as badly timed as it could have been, the Hornets have fallen to the 8th seed. Memphis is now in the seventh spot. The Grizzlies face the Blazers Tuesday night with the season series tied 1-1. Winner gets tiebreaker. Portland wins, they lock up the sixth. Grizzlies win, it comes down to Wednesday night's games. This situation is made trickier by not knowing how the top will look. In reality, everyone's trying to avoid the Lakers. But since L.A. could land anywhere between 2 and 4, there's no way to effectively duck them. If Portland wants to avoid the Lakers, for example, and think winning is the best way to do so, they could beat the Grizzlies, then watch Phil Jackson pull his starters against San Antonio and Sacramento. 

There's no way to tank to avoid opponents. It's a lottery at this point. Which is why so often coaches ignore such strategies at an organizational level. 

We'll update you after Tuesday's games. 
Posted on: April 7, 2011 11:24 am
Edited on: April 7, 2011 11:43 am

Hornets G Chris Paul had knee drained of fluid

New Orleans Hornets guard Chris Paul had his knee drained of liquid this week. Posted by Ben Golliver. chris-paul-knee

On Wednesday night, New Orleans Hornets All-Star point guard Chris Paul scored 28 points, dished 10 assists and grabbed nine rebounds to help the Hornets beat the Houston Rockets and secure a playoff spot. Hornets coach Monty Williams says that Paul's big night was all the more amazing because he needed to have a large amount of fluid drained from his ailing knee prior to the game.  

In a video shot by NOLA.com, Williams explains that Paul had roughly 20% of a cup's worth of liquid drained out of his knee on Tuesday.
"Chris almost had a triple double tonight and normally I don't say this because I don't like to put his stuff out there, but he had 45 CCs drained off of his knee yesterday from the hit he took. 
"For him to be able to play at a high level like that with a sore leg. They just don't make 'em like that. 
"Most guys would take the night off. Try to get this one game that we needed next week or something like that. I thought that act of sacrifice was what we needed. We certainly need him to play at that level but he's a monster."
Paul missed a good chunk of last season after undergoing knee surgery and he spent the early months of this season wearing a cumbersome brace to protect his surgically-repaired left knee. Paul hasn't been quite the same player as he was pre-surgery this season, but he's still been pretty dang good, and the burden on him to carry the Hornets got even heavier when forward David West went down for the season with an ACL injury of his own. Paul is averaging 16.3 points and 9.8 assists so far this season. 

The Hornets are locked into a tight three-team race for the Western Conference's sixth, seventh and eighth seeds with the Portland Trail Blazers and Memphis Grizzlies. Williams doesn't really have the luxury of managing Paul's minutes, as holding on to the sixth seed would mean the Hornets would face the Dallas Mavericks rather than the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers in the first round. That's certainly a more favorable match-up for New Orleans, given the absence of West and the team's lack of size and depth up front.
Posted on: April 1, 2011 3:54 pm
Edited on: April 2, 2011 1:18 am

Two weeks to go, the playoff picture is clearing

Posted by Royce Young

It's April. That's not an April Fools joke. It really is April.

That means mid-way through this month, about half the league will be done playing. And the other half's season will just be starting.

The NBA playoff picture is kind of like one of those 3D images where you have to cross your eyes to see it. It's all coming together, it's all becoming much more clear. We've almost zeroed in on the 16 teams that will be standing come April 16, but the back ends of the East and West still need some settling.

The most contested races right now are the crawl to eighth and the fight for second in the East and the battle for second and eighth in the West. But, really, nothing is all that certain. Let's try and clear this fuzzy playoff picture.


Battle for the top: Chicago (55-20), Miami (53-22, 2.5 back of CHI), Boston (52-23, 3.0 back of CHI)

It's a three-team race for the top spot in the East, with the Bulls appearing to have a pretty good grip on the situation. The Celtics have been slipping after appearing to have quite the handle on things. Then they traded Kendrick Perkins, everyone cried and things started to go bad.

Of course the Heat are lingering and a favorable schedule, they could realistically win out. That could very well slide them into at least the two spot and maybe push the Bulls for the top. Wouldn't that be something.

But it really looks like this is Chicago's conference to lose. The Celtics being three back is a pretty big gap to close and even with the Heat's nice schedule to close, the Bulls are just playing too good right now. They'll likely finish the way they stand now with it going Chicago, Miami, then Boston, which of course would mean the Heat would play New York in the opening round. That'll be fun.

Looking locked in: Orlando (47-28), Atlanta (44-32, 4.0 back of ORL)

There is a chance that Atlanta catches Orlando for the four-seed. It's about as likely as Robert Tractor Traylor staging an NBA comeback, but it's possible. The Magic currently hold a four-game lead over the Hawks, but Orlando's schedule of seven games is pretty easy to close.

The Hawks are finally playing some decent basketball and their 85-82 win over the Magic and a big 88-83 win over the Celtics Friday will be big confidence boosters leading in to an opening round series with Orlando. It looks like Atlanta will concede home court to the Magic, though. Everyone remembers the absolute destruction of the Hawks by Orlando in the opening round last season, and it didn't matter if those games were played on the moon, the Hawks weren't winning. Maybe things will be different this year, but I think we can be pretty sure this is the 4-5 matchup in the East.

Light jockeying: Philadelphia (34-36), New York (37-38, 2.5 back of PHI)

It's funny to look back at things people like me were writing after the Knicks acquired Carmelo Anthony. I actually questioned if the Knicks were contenders this year. We were all wondering if the Knicks could move up from six to maybe five and maybe even four. Now they're holding on to seventh with an outside chance to get to six.

I suppose there is even a chance the Knicks could go the other direction too. And, realistically speaking, they could still fall out of the playoffs entirely as they're only up 4.5 games on the Bobcats with seven to play. An unlikely fall, but certainly possible, especially with this erratic bunch. I think if you gave the Knicks another month they'd definitely be a candidate to drop out -- or maybe even rise some. Really, this group is hard to figure.

Philadelphia holds a two-game lead over the Knicks for sixth and with the way the two teams are playing, it looks pretty certain that that's the way they'll finish. They play each other one more time next week, so that game could be the decider.

The ugly dog contest: Indiana (35-42), Charlotte (32-43, 2.0 back of IND), Milwaukee (30-45, 4.0 back of IND)

This is where these three teams have to stop and ask themselves a very important question -- What's better for us: A first-round playoff exit and the money we make from two extra sold out home games, or a lottery pick and chance at good player?

Let's look at the three:

Indiana: It's definitely in their best interest to go ahead and get to the playoffs. For one, they've held the eighth spot for a large portion of the second half of the season, so falling out would feel kind of like a choke of some kind. Not really because when you're eight games under .500, you sort of choked the entire season anyway and just had the good fortune of playing in the East.

But they've built some decent momentum the last two months under interim coach Frank Vogel. And, behind the improvement of Tyler Hansbrough and Roy Hibbert plus some good players like Danny Granger and Darren Collison, the Pacers could win a game. Making the playoffs would serve them better than getting another young player to develop. They already have enough Paul George's.

Charlotte: They should tank away. They've won four straight and are just a game back, but they tried to mail in this season at the deadline when they gave away Gerald Wallace for very little. The Bobcats need more young talent and need to start building. A playoff berth really does them very little.

It doesn't matter. The Bucks already have been one of the season's bigger disappointments, so if they made the playoffs at least they'd have that to feel better about. Then again, they're going nowhere and could always use that higher pick to try and snag an offensive player.

The Bobcats probably have the toughest schedule which hurt them Friday losing to Orlando and the Pacers picked up a big one-point win over Milwaukee as well. It sort of feels like Charlotte is headed for the berth for some reason even though the Pacers definitely want it the worst. And Friday night's results go a long way toward helping Indiana's bid. Whatever the case, this whole thing is pretty ridiculous.


The unexpected race for No. 1: San Antonio (57-19), Los Angeles (55-20, 2.5 back of SA)

Three weeks ago, the top spot in the West appeared to be a foregone conclusion. The Spurs were easily the best team in basketball -- record wise -- and were going to cruise to the No. 1 seed by six or seven games.

Then Tim Duncan got hurt. And then the Spurs dropped six in a row while the Lakers were running off nine straight. Then the gap closed to just 1.5 games with two weeks to play and both teams headed in different directions. Suddenly the Lakers actually had control of their own destiny to win the West.

Thing is, the Spurs aren't going to panic. They aren't going to worry about losing that lead. And if they do, they can live with it. That roster is too veteran, too mature and with Gregg Popovich, there's no anxiety there. Besides, I don't think they really care all that much about the difference between one and two, other than having that home court advantage over the Lakers.

The Lakers and Spurs do play one last time on April 12, so that game could be one to watch. But in all likelihood, the Spurs will regroup and finish up just strong enough to lock up the top seed.

The right to play L.A. in the second round -- or maybe the Spurs: Dallas (53-22), Oklahoma City (50-25, 3.0 of DAL)

The Mavericks are really in an interesting place. Technically they're just 1.5 back of the Lakers for second, but after Thursday's beatdown and the fact L.A. is the hottest team in the league, it feels like that race is over.

And now Dallas has to look over its shoulder just a bit at the Thunder who have been storming (see what I did there?) the past month (14-2 in March). The gap is 2.5 which is pretty big with only seven games left and most of the games on the road for OKC, it'll be difficult to catch Dallas.

Probably better for the Thunder too seeing as I think they'd prefer to have San Antonio in the second round instead of the Lakers. (Ironically if the Spurs keep losing, they might have to get to three. This is so confusing.)

OKC matches up much better with both since the Kendrick Perkins trade, but the Thunder has a better chance versus the Spurs to advance. Dallas is probably thinking the same thing though, especially after Thursday.

Locked in, sort of: Denver (46-29)

The Nuggets have been just outstanding the last month. Think about the mood after they dealt Carmelo Anthony. Most felt like an extra playoff spot had opened up in the West because it was a sure thing Denver would drop out.

Instead, they went up.

And if it weren't for the Thunder playing such fantastic basketball, the Nuggets would be pushing hard for the Northwest Division title and four-seed. But it doesn't look like they'll catch OKC who have a five-game lead. The Nuggets and Thunder do still play twice though and with the series at 1-1 this season, Denver could take the tiebreaker.

It's unlikely Denver would drop behind New Orleans (3.0 back) or Portland (2.5 back), but the Nuggets can't just coast into the five-seed. They appear to match up pretty well with OKC and would likely rather have the five-seed over six versus the Mavericks or seven versus the Lakers.

A real derby: Portland (44-32), New Orleans (43-33 (1.0 back of POR), Memphis (43-33, 1.0 back of POR), Houston (40-36, 3.0 back of MEM and NOLA)

After a very important Friday, the Blazers moved to sixth, the Hornets dropped to seven where they're tied with Memphis. The Rockets picked up a major win against San Antonio to stay three back of the eight spot.

Obviously the Hornets have an uphill battle to fight sans David West. Losing their best scorer is a major, major blow and one that will likely drop them down. Then again, so far without West the Hornets are 2-2 with a big win over Portland Wednesday. There was a bit of worry New Orleans could lose its playoff spot, but three games is a lot for Houston to make up in two weeks (though they do play one more time).

Portland really seems like the team set to get the six-seed. They have the most remaining healthy talent (that's a funny thing to say), are playing really well and don't have a killer schedule to finish. With a nice 99-91 win over the Thunder Friday, Portland finally reclaimed that six-seed and I don't see them losing it from here on out.

Memphis has a chance to either make up serious ground or lock themselves into eighth. The Grizzlies beat the Hornets Friday to knot things up and have one more New Orleans and one against Portland remaining.

And then Houston. I'm keeping them in the mix but a three-game deficit in six games is a lot to make up. The Rockets made their bed in November with their awful start.

Here's how I see this playing out: Portland is getting the six. They're too good, don't have a challenging schedule and have a lot of incentive to get the six because they match up well with Dallas. New Orleans, is falling. The Hornets are going to lose both games to Memphis and drop to eighth. Which is probably a blessing in disguise because they match up much better without West against the Spurs than they do against the Lakers.

And the Grizzlies will settle in at seven, playing the Lakers who they actually match decently against with Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol inside. Give Memphis Rudy Gay for this series and I honestly see it going seven.

Right now, 20 teams are still in the playoff mix. In two weeks, it'll be down to 16. Sad that maybe the best race is between three teams a combined 30 games under .500. Such is life in the bottom half of the East.
Posted on: March 25, 2011 12:24 pm
Edited on: March 25, 2011 9:22 pm

What happens to the Hornets without David West?

Posted by Royce Young

Hopefully I'm jumping the gun here. Hopefully, David West didn't suffer a major, serious injury Thursday night against the Jazz. But according to all initial reports and just the way it looked, West will likely be out the rest of the season and probably the entire duration of the postseason.

Right now, it's been classified as a "left knee trauma." That last word makes this thing sound pretty scary. He'll have an MRI later today to determine the severity.  (UPDATE: Reports are that West tore his ACL and is done for the remainder of the season and postseason.)

Two questions immediately popped up after West was wheeled to the locker room in a wheelchair: 1) With an early termination option, what's this do to West's desire to opt out and test free agency and 2) are the Hornets totally screwed now?

The first question is still a little premature to really delve into because we don't exactly know the extent of the injury and how West's career could be affected. But what we do have a pretty handle on is that West likely won't be appearing in a Hornet uniform this season and that means New Orleans' postseason aspirations have drastically been altered.

Let's not get ahead of ourselves though. Let's not pretend that this was a championship New Orleans team that was destined for an appearance in the Western Finals. It's a good team that pending a favorable matchup could maybe get to the second round and of course with Chris Paul and West, be able to push an opponent to six or seven games there. That was the Hornets' immediate future.

Without West though, everything changes. First, CP3 just lost his top target. Gone is his pick-and-pop buddy, the guy the Hornets liked to isolate at the end of games, the guy they liked taking their last second shots. Gone is their second best rebounder and second best interior defender. And gone is their second best player. Take the second best player from any playoff team and that group is in trouble. Take Pau Gasol away from Kobe. Take Jason Terry away from Dirk. Take Russell Westbrook away from Kevin Durant. Things change big time.

And in the Hornets case, things change fundamentally too. Like I said, West was a dynamic option for Paul because the two loved to run a mid-range pick-and-roll/pick-and-pop game. West's backup Carl Landry has no ability to do that. He's a terrible jumpshooter. West's range extended nearly to the 3-point line while Landry isn't making anything consistently past the free throw line.

Really, the Hornets might be better served using Jason Smith almost equally with Landry. Smith is a decent mid-range shooter (shoots 42 percent from 16-23 feet on 2.8 attempts per game) and in spot time for Emeka Okafor, performed pretty well highlighted by a 20-point effort against Washington. Still though, there's no replacing West in the offense. Already the Hornets struggle on that end (20th in offensive efficiency) and without West, all the load goes on Paul to score. Trading Marcus Thornton for Landry at the deadline was a good move to provide frontcourt depth, but the Hornets are going to really miss his ability to score these last three weeks.

I'm talking playoff ramifications here, but maybe I'm asking the wrong question. Are the Hornets even going to get there without West? Right now, NOLA sits at seventh in the West at 41-31 which is three games ahead of the streaking Rockets. Three games though is a lot to make up in just 10 games. Unfortunately for the Hornets, the schedule isn't easy to finish. Six of the 10 are at home which is nice, but they have games against Phoenix (twice), the Lakers, Portland, Memphis (twice), Indiana, Houston, Utah and Dallas. If you'll notice, all 10 of those games are against current playoff teams or .500 clubs (well, Utah is 36-37). Yikes.

I think the Hornets will survive and squeeze into the postseason though, which is something I'm sure the organization desperately is hoping for from a financial standpoint. The Rockets will need to finish with seven out of 10 or so to catch the Hornets and with game against the Heat, 76ers, Spurs, Hawks, Mavericks and suddenly a big one against the Hornets April 6, that'll be tough.

But it'll likely end there for the Hornets. Getting to the postseason will be a task and while advancing was already somewhat of a long-shot, it's most definitely not happening without West. As it stands now, the Hornets would play the Lakers in the opening round and without West, the size of Andrew Bynum, Gasol and Lamar Odom will entirely overwhelm New Orleans. Really, their best hope for winning a game or two in the playoffs is to slip to eighth and catch the Spurs who they match up with a bit better.

The season may have changed in a big way for the Hornets Thursday night which is a real shame. The team has been an inconsistent mess for a lot of the season, but was finally finding some consistency lately. All of that probably flies out the window with a serious injury to David West.

I'm hoping all this analysis is totally worthless by later this afternoon as West's MRI shows it's not serious. But that's looking unlikely. Which is unfortunate for everyone.
Posted on: March 25, 2011 9:14 am

Video: Emeka Okafor goes to the bank

Posted by Royce Young

Thursday wasn't a great night for Hornets fans. David West went down with what appeared to be a pretty serious knee injury and with that, any hopes of making a strong playoff run went down with him.

But if there was something to provide even a slim pick-me-up, it was Emeka Okafor's insane miracle buzzer-beating bank shot that sent the game to overtime, where the Hornets eventually won 121-117. Forgetting what happened to West isn't easy (he has an MRI today), but for a second there, Okafor's shot had to make everyone feel good again.

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