Hornets’ best hope for postseason success: health

Thursday, April 16, 2009
By: Jim Eichenhofer, Hornets.com

Chris Paul grabbed the microphone Thursday during the team’s annual pre-playoff Fan Up gathering in downtown New Orleans, in part to thank the thousands of Hornets fans on hand for their support during the 2008-09 regular season.

“We’ve had a great time this season,” Paul said, before gesturing toward Tyson Chandler and his teammates standing behind him on stage. “But now it’s time for the playoffs. And you know what the best part of the playoffs is? It’s that now, finally, we have everyone healthy.”

Predictably, Paul’s statement drew the biggest ovation of the evening. Everyone who has followed this team closely in recent years realizes how important health is to its success. During an injury-wrecked season two years ago, the Hornets won 39 games and missed the postseason. Then, in 2007-08, no key player was sidelined for any significant number of games – and New Orleans won 56 games, as well as the Southwest Division title.

The Hornets finished with seven fewer victories in this regular season than a year ago, a drop-off that seems nearly inevitable when you scan the games-missed column for the team’s top rebounder and perimeter shooter. Chandler was sidelined for 37 games, primarily due to ankle injury; Stojakovic missed 21 due to back spasms. Rasual Butler was one of the only Hornets to make it through the entire campaign without an injury of some kind and appeared in all 82 games. Otherwise, the lineup was frequently changing, perhaps best evidenced by the fact that 13 different Hornets started at least three times (James Posey was the only player to not receive a starting nod).

It would be misleading to say that the Hornets are completely healthy now, because Chandler is not likely to be at full strength during the postseason. Stojakovic and Posey (elbow) still appear to be trying to regain their timing after injuries that caused them to miss games in March or April. In four games since his return, Posey has averaged 8.5 points and shot 38 percent from the field. Stojakovic played in the final eight games of the regular season, averaging 10.1 points on 35 percent shooting.

“Tyson is not 100 percent and he probably won’t be 100 percent this whole series,” Byron Scott said. “But he’s about as close as he’s been to (full health) in a long time. Peja, David and CP are relatively healthy, but David and CP are more fatigued than anything else, because of all the minutes they’ve played. After that, everyone else is pretty healthy, (including) Posey.”

Hornets-Nuggets Round 1 opener Sunday night

The NBA released the first-round schedule for the 2009 playoffs this morning. The opening game of the New Orleans-Denver series will take place Sunday, at 9:30 p.m. Central time (8:30 local time in Colorado).

Below is the entire schedule for the Western Conference quarterfinal series between the Hornets and Nuggets. We will have much more preview coverage on Hornets.com over the next few days. The Hornets are scheduled to practice this afternoon at the Alario Center to begin preparations for traveling to Denver on Saturday.

No. 7 NEW ORLEANS VS. NO. 2 DENVER (All times Central)
Game 1 - Sun April 19 New Orleans at Denver 9:30 PM TNT
Game 2 - Wed April 22 New Orleans at Denver 9:30 PM TNT
Game 3 - Sat April 25 Denver at New Orleans 12:00 PM ESPN
Game 4 - Mon April 27 Denver at New Orleans TBD TBD TBD
Game 5 * Wed April 29 New Orleans at Denver TBD TBD TBD
Game 6 * Fri May 1 Denver at New Orleans TBD TBD TBD
Game 7 * Sun May 3 New Orleans at Denver TBD TBD TBD
* If necessary