By: Jim Eichenhofer, Hornets.com, @Jim_Eichenhofer
November 7, 2012
The New Orleans Hornets make their 2012-13 regular season debut on ESPN’s national broadcast schedule Wednesday evening, hosting the Philadelphia 76ers in an interconference matchup. This is the first of only two Hornets games this season currently scheduled to be televised by national networks ESPN, ABC or TNT. However, if New Orleans continues to build on its performances from the first week of the campaign, that could soon change.
The Hornets wrapped up a 2-1 opening week with an impressive road victory Saturday at Chicago, holding off the Bulls by an 89-82 margin. Despite the injury absences of projected key players Anthony Davis (concussion) and Eric Gordon (knee), New Orleans has won consecutive games against 2012 playoff qualifiers (Utah, Chicago), after narrowly losing to the Western Conference’s No. 1 seed from a season ago (San Antonio) in last Wednesday’s Halloween opener.
With their lineup not at full strength, the Hornets have received invaluable contributions in the early going from players such as starting center Robin Lopez (averages of 14.3 points, 7.7 rebounds) and small forward Al-Farouq Aminu (13.3 points, 7.0 rebounds). Saturday’s victory over the Bulls was highlighted by a big fourth quarter from frontcourt reserve Jason Smith (11.3 points, 4.0 rebounds), who has impacted New Orleans despite only playing 17.0 minutes per game. Smith missed the majority of the preseason with a shoulder injury, which has head coach Monty Williams monitoring his playing time early in 2012-13. After an up-and-down preseason, point guard Greivis Vasquez has rendered the exhibition slate easily forgotten with a 29-to-9 ratio in assists and turnovers. Ryan Anderson, who started in Davis’ place Saturday at Chicago, has also provided an offensive spark by averaging 14.0 points, to go with 8.0 rebounds.
Philadelphia enters Wednesday’s trip to New Orleans at 1-2. The 76ers defeated Denver in Pennsylvania last Wednesday, but dropped both games of a back-to-back against New York on Sunday and Monday.
Intriguing matchup: Point guard, Greivis Vasquez vs. Jrue Holiday
The 6-foot-4 Holiday was Philadelphia’s leading scorer by a significant margin through its first three games, averaging 19.3 points. The fourth-year pro was also off to a hot shooting start, sinking 8 of his first 15 three-pointers. The 6-6 Vasquez will use his size advantage to try to contest the UCLA product’s shots and keep him out of the lane.
Philadelphia is coming off of what was arguably its best season in a decade. The 76ers advanced to the Eastern Conference semifinals in 2011-12, where they dropped a hard-fought series in Game 7 to the heavily favored Boston Celtics. Eighth-seeded Philadelphia posted a significant upset in the opening round of the Eastern Conference playoffs, knocking off the top-seeded but Derrick Rose-less Chicago Bulls. After several years of gradually adding young pieces to their roster, the 76ers (35-31 last season) made a major change in direction when they traded longtime franchise player Andre Iguodala, in a complicated four-team deal that brought Andrew Bynum to the City of Brotherly Love. The 76ers have designs on competing for the top spot in what should be a loaded Atlantic Division, but they’ll have to overtake Boston, New York and new-look Brooklyn.
Bynum was the marquee pickup of the Philadelphia offseason, but his status has been in question early in 2012-13 due to discomfort in his right knee. The injury caused him to miss games throughout his seven seasons with the Lakers. In addition to Bynum, the Sixers landed several perimeter threats who could make a big impact, including Jason Richardson, Nick Young and Dorell Wright. Arnett Moultrie is an intriguing prospect and a first-round pick from Mississippi State. Additional depth comes from free agent signings Kwame Brown and Royal Ivey, both longtime NBA reserves.
The 76ers’ most important player this season was supposed to be Bynum, but with him sidelined, the rest of the roster includes several members who make relatively equal contributions. Among the team’s returnees, point guard Jrue Holiday was the top scorer a season ago, averaging 13.5 points. The adept ballhandler and smooth shooter has been called the NBA’s most underrated player by the Hornets’ Jason Smith, a former teammate of Holiday in Philadelphia.
On the rise
Now in his third NBA season, talented wing Evan Turner could be on the verge of a breakout campaign. After a standout college career at Ohio State, Turner was chosen by the 76ers with the second overall pick of the 2010 NBA Draft, one spot after Washington’s John Wall. Turner improved in virtually every major statistical category last season, often relying on his mid-range jump shot.
76ers center Spencer Hawes had a so-so regular season in 2011-12, but his performance against Chicago in the first round of the playoffs was a big reason for the team’s upset victory. Hawes has been trying to become a consistent force dating back to his first three seasons as a Sacramento Kings lottery pick, but appears to be making tangible strides. In Philadelphia’s 2012-13 opening win last week vs. Denver, Hawes posted 16 points and 12 rebounds.
On the sideline
In his first two seasons at the helm for Philadelphia, head coach Doug Collins went 76-72 overall. That doesn’t necessarily sound all that impressive, until you consider that the 76ers did not post a winning record in any of the previous five seasons before Collins was hired. Collins also guided the 76ers to their first playoff series triumph since 2003. A former No. 1 overall draft pick in 1973, Collins was an excellent guard who played his entire eight-year NBA career for Philadelphia.
Did you know?
Philadelphia sixth-year forward Thaddeus Young was born in New Orleans, before he and his family moved to Memphis, where he attended high school. Young has been with the 76ers longer than any other current player. He was the 12th overall pick of the 2007 NBA Draft, after he played one college season at Georgia Tech.
|Players the 76ers want shooting free throws in a close game…||If the 76ers need a three-pointer, three of their best options are…|