CP3 goes for history, Hornets meet rival Spurs

Wednesday, December 17, 2008
By: Jim Eichenhofer, Hornets.com

Big game tonight in New Orleans, when the Hornets (14-7) host the Spurs (15-8). The game is tipping off a bit later than usual (8:30 p.m.) due to ESPN broadcasting it nationally. ESPN's Dan Schulman and Jeff Van Gundy will be calling the game from the Hive tonight.

In advance of tonight's Southwest Division showdown, the San Antonio fan website Project Spurs e-mailed over some questions about the Hornets. Here are my responses (you can also read more insight on the Spurs by reading their Rival Report on the Hornets.com homepage, brought to us by writer David Thiessen):

Project Spurs: As you know, tomorrow’s game will be a rematch of last year's Western Conference semifinals and it will be in New Orleans Arena, where the Spurs were able to win the seventh game that sent them on to the Western Conference finals. What is the mood like among the players and team? Is this seen as a sort of revenge game or is it seen as just another game on the schedule?
Eichenhofer: I think the mood among the team right now is optimism about the way they’ve played recently, after starting the season 5-5. Everyone is also interested to see what impact Dec. 10 trade acquisition Antonio Daniels will make on the Hornets’ bench and the team overall. He has the potential to be the best backup Chris Paul has had in his four NBA seasons, so Daniels could be a huge addition. In terms of the Spurs, there hasn’t been a lot of talk about this game in particular, but the Hornets just played the Celtics on national TV Friday, so the media had been focused much more on that game. Since this game against the Spurs is the second game of a back-to-back for the Hornets, it probably hasn’t received as much hype as it may have under other circumstances.
At the same time though, the Spurs have become a big rival, especially in the eyes of Hornets fans, so it’s safe to say people here are looking forward to this game. I don’t think the players would use the word “revenge,” because realistically that could only happen in a playoff rematch.

Project Spurs: Every time these teams play each other, there are always some great matchups. The point guard matchup pits arguably two of the top-five point guards, Tony Parker and Chris Paul, against each other. Watching Tony and Chris go at it in the playoffs was very entertaining, but I don't think either one stopped or limited the other. What will Paul have to do to assure he gets the best of Parker tomorrow night?
Eichenhofer: You’re right: It seems like both guys put up some very good numbers when they face each other. Neither team has been effective in preventing the opponent’s point guard from having a big impact at the offensive end. For Paul and the Hornets’ defense to be successful against Parker, they need to keep Parker from penetrating into the lane, where he is arguably the best finisher in the league among point guards. I noticed Parker has only attempted 12 three-pointers so far in his 14 games, so forcing him to take jumpers is the logical strategy.

Project Spurs: We talked about Parker and Paul, but there's also Duncan and West. Both All-Stars and two of the better power forwards at their position. Which of the two matchups will be the key matchup for tomorrow's game?
Eichenhofer: If Parker and Paul continue to basically cancel each other out, the Duncan-West matchup is potentially more pivotal. West’s best game as a pro was Game 5 of the Spurs series last year, when he piled up 38 points despite a couple nagging injuries. Whenever West has huge offensive games like that, New Orleans is a very difficult to beat, especially here in the Big Easy.

Project Spurs: We've seen a little bit of movement out of New Orleans recently and in the offseason. The Hornets acquired Antonio Daniels to back up Chris Paul and they signed James Posey and Devin Brown. Do you think those pieces, which make up an even stronger second unit, will give the Hornets what it takes to match up better against other Western Conference rivals like the Lakers, Nuggets, Spurs and Rockets?
Eichenhofer: The Hornets knew they needed to make additions and improvements to their depth in order to have a better chance to advance further in the West postseason. New Orleans’ starting five has been outstanding, but teams like the Lakers and Rockets held big advantages over the Hornets last season off their benches. By adding Posey and Daniels, New Orleans GM Jeff Bower has closed the gap in terms of bench experience and talent between his team and other West contenders.

Project Spurs: I made a prediction before the season started that the Hornets would finish first in the West and likely make it to the Finals. From what I read, I wasn't alone in that prediction, but the Hornets were a little slow out of the gates. What do you think was the reason for the slow start?
Eichenhofer: Hornets coach Byron Scott believed the team may have been slightly overconfident, half-jokingly saying that he was going to ban his players from reading some of newspapers or magazines that had been praising them profusely (I guess Scott would’ve banned them from reading Project Spurs too, given your NBA Finals prediction…).

“We haven’t done anything yet,” was one of Scott’s common refrains early in the regular season, reminding everyone that New Orleans’ resume is not extensive enough to assume that it can just walk out onto the floor and win games.

A more tangible reason for the slow start was poor shooting. Several Hornets, most prominently Peja Stojakovic, simply did not shoot well over the first few weeks of the season. Many of those same players have been much more accurate lately, resulting in greatly improved results for the team.

Project Spurs: What's the status on Tyson Chandler? Will he play tomorrow night? If not, there's a guy in San Antonio that goes by the name of Bonner that may be glad to dodge that bullet.
Eichenhofer: Unfortunately for Bonner, Chandler returned to the lineup Tuesday at Memphis. The Hornets’ 7-foot-1 center missed the first two games of the road trip in Boston and Toronto, but was back in action against the Grizzlies. That should be an interesting matchup because Bonner is a great three-point shooter, but Chandler obviously doesn’t want to stray too far from the paint, where he rebounds and blocks shots.

Hornets.com postgame: Hornets 90, Spurs 83

Take your pick of best moment from tonight’s game from a Hornets standpoint: Was it Chris Paul’s first-quarter steal, which set the NBA record for most consecutive games (106) with at least one theft? Was it David West’s unexpected pair of momentous three-pointers in the fourth quarter? Or maybe Paul winning a jump ball over 6-foot-6 Manu Ginobili in a crucial situation with less than a minute left?

New Orleans (15-7) gutted out an excellent early-season victory over San Antonio (15-9), trailing for most of the game, but outscoring its Southwest Division rival 27-13 in the fourth quarter. A few minutes after the game, Hornets coach Byron Scott called it the most significant win of the season for his team.

"Big win," Scott described. "Especially being down nine points (in the fourth quarter). Our guys kept fighting and kept our focus. We knew we had to match San Antonio's intensity.

"To be down nine in the fourth quarter and still come back and win, I would say it's our biggest win of the season."

Here were a few of the many memorable events from Wednesday's ESPN game:

* Paul broke Alvin Robertson's all-time NBA consecutive-games-with-a-steal record in the first quarter, deflecting a Spurs pass and grabbing the loose ball. The New Orleans Arena crowd immediately erupted in cheers for the historic steal.

"In his short career, he's had an unbelievable four years," Scott said of Paul. "He has the possibility of really putting this (record) out of reach. I don't see any reason why it has to stop at 106."

* West entered Wednesday 3-for-9 on the season from three-point range, but managed to bury two trifectas in the fourth quarter. West led the Hornets with 10 fourth-quarter points.

"He's got the capability of knocking those down," Scott said of his All-Star power forward's three-point makes. "I have no qualms with him taking those. It just shows a different dimension to his game."

* With 24 seconds remaining and New Orleans leading 85-81, Paul outleaped Ginobili on a jump ball, giving the Hornets a big possession. They made all but one of their free-throw attempts down the stretch to seal it.

Other notes:
Peja Stojakovic sustained back spasms while working out before the game and was a late scratch. Scott said he is not concerned about the injury. The Hornets don't play again until Saturday vs. Sacramento. "I thought his back flared up a little bit (Tuesday) in Memphis," Scott said. "He was in a little bit of discomfort. We've got a couple days before our next game. I think he'll be fine."
Morris Peterson (illness) was the other New Orleans inactive. As a result of Stojakovic's absence, Devin Brown moved into the starting lineup and Rasual Butler shifted to the small forward spot. Butler finished with 13 points and delivered several critical plays in the second half.