Game 2 key questions (Nuggets lead series 1-0)

Tuesday, April 21, 2009
By: Jim Eichenhofer, Hornets.com

A few things to watch for in Game 2, as the Nuggets try to take a 2-0 lead in a playoff series for the first time in 24 years. New Orleans’ most recent 2-0 series deficit came in 2004, when the Hornets dropped the first two games vs. Miami but rallied to force a Game 7 in a first-round series:

1) What will Chauncey Billups do for an encore?
Casual hoops fans who don’t follow the game closely but watched Game 1 may be under the impression that the Nuggets’ outstanding point guard is one of the NBA’s all-time great three-point shooters. His season and career statistics indicate that Game 1 was not a complete aberration for Billups – after all, he was the NBA’s 29th-best shooter from three-point range in the 2008-09 regular season, at 40.8 percent. But coming off an incredible 8-for-9 performance, he can’t shoot this well all series, can he? A career 38.8 percent three-point shooter over 12 years in the league, the University of Colorado alum has earned a well-deserved reputation as a clutch player who is at his best in big games. It’s a rep he backed up by spearheading a Game 1 victory by the Nuggets, a team that could’ve been apprehensive about the playoffs after first consecutive years of first-round exits. It also will be interesting to see who defends against Billups this time. Rasual Butler drew the assignment in Game 1 but was hampered by foul trouble and had difficulty keeping Billups out of the lane on the rare occasions when Billups wasn’t spotting up for another trey.

2) How will the Hornets and David West adjust?
Nuggets top defender Kenyon Martin has gotten a great deal of credit over the past two days for his aggressiveness against West (4-for-16 shooting, 12 points) in Game 1, and deservedly so. West missed a few open looks that he routinely makes, but Martin also crowded West throughout the game and forced him into several fadeaways and contested mid-range shots. Byron Scott said after Game 1 that the Hornets may need to put West in motion more often in their halfcourt offensive sets, so that he’s not in as many stationary one-on-one situations against the 6-foot-9 Martin, a more athletic player. As Scott also alluded to, however, this simply may not be a good matchup for West. Unlike the vast majority of defenders who are quicker than West, Martin is roughly as tall and as strong as West, meaning taking Martin down to the low post would not necessarily yield better results. Over seven total games the past two NBA seasons, including Sunday’s Game 1, West has shot just 48-for-122 (39.3 percent) against the Nuggets. He’s a career 48.3 percent shooter.

3) Do the shooting woes continue?
Speaking of the Hornets’ offense, even though Chris Paul finished with 21 points and 11 assists in Game 1, Denver also had to be content overall with its defense against New Orleans’ other All-Star. CP3 had four turnovers and needed 19 shot attempts to get those 21 points. He said after the game that he believed it was merely a case of him missing several open looks that he’s often made this season. More damaging for New Orleans, Butler (3-for-6) and Peja Stojakovic (5-for-10) made half of their shots but only totaled 16 attempts. Off the bench, James Posey went 1-for-5. Add it all up, and New Orleans made only 37.2 percent of its shots in Game 1. With the bench struggling to generate offense, it’s paramount that these three players are more aggressive and productive at that end of the floor.

Other thoughts:
• It would be easy to look at the rebounding department from Game 1 and be alarmed by Denver’s 49-35 overall rebounding advantage, but the Hornets missed so many more shots than the Nuggets that Denver was virtually guaranteed to have the upper hand. What’s troubling is that Denver still had more offensive boards than New Orleans (12-10). The Nuggets grabbed nearly one-third of their 37 misses, while the Hornets barely collected one-fifth of their 49 misses. Denver was a superior rebounding team to New Orleans during the regular season, but it was a slim margin. The Nuggets ranked 15th in percentage of rebounds collected (50.2), while the Hornets were tied for 17th (49.8).
• There has to be concern from a Hornets standpoint that it was a 29-point defeat despite a subpar game from Nuggets leading scorer Carmelo Anthony (4-for-12, 13 points). As a team, the Nuggets shot 50.7 percent from the field in Game 1, which seems extremely high, but take a closer look at the stats over their last batch of home games: Denver has been an offensive machine in the Pepsi Center, shooting over 50 percent from the field six times in their last eight home dates. On the road, it’s been a completely different story. The Nuggets have reached 50-percent shooting only twice in their last 11 away games.