Big Easy Buzz Blog - April 15, 2009

Jazz loss means Hornets will be 6 or 7 seed

Wednesday, April 15, 2009
By: Jim Eichenhofer,
Utah needed a victory Tuesday to have any shot of moving out of the eighth spot in the Western Conference playoff race, but the Jazz were dominated in the second half by the Lakers, falling by a 125-112 margin. It was only a one-point Lakers lead at halftime.

As a result, New Orleans (49-32) will finish as either a 6 or 7 seed, depending on Wednesday’s results. If the Hornets win at San Antonio or the Mavericks (49-32) lose vs. Houston, New Orleans will earn the No. 6 spot. If both the Hornets lose and the Mavericks win, Dallas would move up to No. 6 and move the Hornets to No. 7.

The lone Western Conference first-round matchup that has been determined is Lakers vs. Jazz. Give credit to the NBA schedulemaker, because the other six West playoff teams are facing one another Wednesday night: Hornets at Spurs, Rockets at Mavericks, Nuggets at Trail Blazers.

The list of potential first-round opponents for New Orleans is now down to three, consisting of Houston, Portland and Denver.

To view all of the possible permutations, check the previous blog entry.

On paper at least, Denver is most likely opponent

UPDATE: Tyson Chandler will be in the starting lineup for the Hornets in San Antonio and is expected to play between 15 and 20 minutes.

Entering New Orleans’ final game of the regular season at San Antonio tonight (7 p.m. Central), the Hornets know that they will be the Western Conference’s sixth or seventh seed. They also know that their first-round opponent will be either Denver, Houston or Portland.

Here are tonight’s pertinent games that affect the three still-undetermined matchups in the Western Conference:

• New Orleans at San Antonio, 7 p.m. (Cox Sports TV)

• Houston at Dallas, 7 p.m. (ESPN)

• Denver at Portland, 9:30 p.m. (ESPN)

There are eight possible permutations of how tonight’s results could impact seeding. Of those eight scenarios, four of them result in New Orleans facing Denver. In three others, New Orleans would get Houston as its opponent. In just one scenario, New Orleans would play Portland.

It’s important to note that if the Hornets lose tonight, there is a mathematical 75 percent chance that they would play Denver in the first round (and 25 percent chance they would play Houston, with 0 percent chance of playing Portland).

Conversely, if the Hornets win tonight, there is a mathematical 50 percent chance that they would play Houston in the first round (along with a 25 percent chance that they’d play Denver and a 25 percent chance that they’d play Portland).

Below are the possible variations and whom the Hornets would play given each scenario:

LOSS SCENARIO 1 (scenarios based on Hornets losing tonight)
New Orleans L, Dallas L, Portland W
Result: No. 6 seed New Orleans vs. No. 3 seed Denver

New Orleans L, Dallas L, Portland L
Result: No. 6 New Orleans vs. No. 3 Houston

New Orleans L, Dallas W, Portland W
Result: No. 7 New Orleans vs. No. 2 Denver

New Orleans L, Dallas W, Portland L
Result: No. 7 New Orleans vs. No. 2 Denver

WIN SCENARIO 1 (scenarios based on Hornets winning tonight)
New Orleans W, Dallas L, Portland W
Result: No. 6 New Orleans vs. No. 3 Denver

New Orleans W, Dallas L, Portland L
Result: No. 6 New Orleans vs. No. 3 Houston

New Orleans W, Dallas W, Portland L
Result: No. 6 New Orleans vs. No. 3 Houston

New Orleans W, Dallas W, Portland W
Result: No. 6 New Orleans vs. No. 3 Portland

Hornets lose in OT, will meet Nuggets in Round 1

The good news: Tyson Chandler's return to the floor after being sidelined for a month went about as well as anyone could've possibly expected. The bad news: a combination of a heartbreaking 105-98 overtime defeat to the Spurs - along with the Mavericks' victory over the Rockets - dropped the Hornets (49-33) to the seventh seed in the Western Conference. They will face Denver, which wrapped up the No. 2 slot when Houston lost to Dallas.

By virtue of their comeback win late in regulation, the Spurs captured the Southwest Division championship and wound up as the West’s third seed. San Antonio will be matched up against longtime nemesis Dallas, which managed to leapfrog New Orleans into the No. 6 seed.

There is a lot of ground to cover tonight, so let’s jump right into it:

• It was extremely encouraging to see Chandler in his first game since March 16. He scored 10 points while playing 20 minutes all prior to intermission. The best part of that may have been that he had four baskets on alley oop catches. It didn’t look like his mobility or lift was affected much by his ankle injury. Chandler recently stopped wearing his ankle brace for non-basketball activity, a sign that his ankle is getting stronger and the pain is lessening. “It was great to have Tyson in the first half,” Chris Paul said. “It will be good to have him (for full games) in the playoffs.”

• The Hornets have suffered some gut-wrenching losses to San Antonio in recent years, and this one has to be near the top of the list. New Orleans appeared poised to register 50 wins for just the second time in the last 10 years when the visitors led in the final minute, but missed free throws by James Posey left the door open for the Spurs. Trailing by 3 with time expiring, Michael Finley canned a trey from the left wing that forced overtime. “It was execution,” Paul said of not being able to close out the Spurs. “If we’re going to advance in the playoffs, we’re going to have to learn how to win games like this. This was like the second or third time we lost a game like this (in 2008-09). So we’ve got to figure it out.”

• So much for the idea that either team would be able to give significant rest to its stars. That notion went out the window during a nip-and-tuck game that went into overtime. In something of a worst-case scenario, Paul (26 points, 14 assists) played 47 minutes, while David West (34 points) logged 48 minutes. Meanwhile, San Antonio also pushed its key guys to the max, with Tony Parker on the floor 43 minutes.

• The Hornets and Nuggets split their four regular season games. Both teams prevailed once on the other’s home floor. However, only one of those matchups took place after the All-Star break. Denver posted a 101-88 victory in the New Orleans Arena on March 25, a game that was missed due to injury by Chandler and Peja Stojakovic. The Nuggets proved a multitude of skeptics wrong this season not only by qualifying for the playoffs, but also by winning the Northwest Division. The early-season trade for Chauncey Billups completely transformed the Nuggets into a contending team. Denver also features former Hornets players J.R. Smith and Chris Andersen.

Byron Scott

(on the first four quarters of game before the overtime)
“It was a real good game, I thought we played hard and that’s all you can ask for as our guys competed. I thought Tyson looked pretty good, you could tell he was rusty but his energy and effort out there I thought was fantastic. He gives us some hope for this playoff series we have coming up against Denver. We just missed free throws, if we make our free throw percentage, which is 80-81 percent we win the game before it even goes into overtime.”
(on the difference of body language between tonight’s game and the Houston game)
“It was tremendously different, again, that’s the all-time riddle with our team. We have games like that where we come and play hard and then we have other games where we look like we’re very disinterested, so tonight was one of the games that I thought our guys really wanted the win big time as they came out and gave it everything they had. You have to give Parker and Finley credit as he hit a big shot, but it should’ve never gotten to that point. We missed about four free throws in the fourth quarter that really cost us the game.”
(on if miscommunication on the last play of the fourth quarter)
“Everybody was switching, the only one I told to switch was David and he told Posey if they do come together, to switch. Again great pass over the top and just a great shot as Finley is used to those shots being a veteran.”

David West
(Last play of the night)
“We had the game won tonight. The Spurs made some really big plays when it counted. The question of the night was, foul Roger Mason or let him pass the ball to Michael Finley. Ultimately I think we played really good defense at the end of the game forcing Michael to take the shot and he made it.”
(First-round opponent)
“Denver is a tough team with a lot of talent. We need the players on this team to step up. We need guys to make the big shot and guys to make plays for this team.”
(What’s missing?)
“The missing element on this team is guys who make plays. The Spurs had the play makers tonight. If this team wants to beat Denver we’re going to need guys to make plays and that’s the bottom line. We need to collectively as a team focus on the game of basketball.”
(NBA Playoffs)
“I thought during last years NBA Playoffs we could compete against any team in the league. This year I feel the same however we really need players to step up and play basketball.”
(Final thought)
“We need a collective team effort. We need the players on this team to make plays when we need them.”