By: Jim Eichenhofer, Hornets.com, @Jim_Eichenhofer
February 19, 2013
Given the way the New Orleans Hornets were playing during the last handful of games prior to the 2013 All-Star break, several players commented that they were not anxious for the midseason hiatus to arrive. In Tuesday’s home game against the Chicago Bulls, the Hornets will try to pick up from where they left off, after routing Detroit by 18 points and Portland by 36 prior to the All-Star break, on Feb. 11 and 13, respectively.
“Now I don't want to go into the (All-Star) break, because we're playing great basketball,” New Orleans starting point guard Greivis Vasquez said of the club’s momentum, following a dominating 99-63 victory against the Trail Blazers. “We’re making good progress.”
Indeed, after beginning the 2012-13 regular season with a 6-23 record, the Hornets have gone 13-11 since Dec. 29, a date that coincided with the team finally being at full strength health-wise. Early in the season, New Orleans was frequently shorthanded, playing without the likes of Anthony Davis, Eric Gordon and Jason Smith.
In the last five games prior to getting a few days off for All-Star festivities, New Orleans went 4-1, defeating Phoenix, Atlanta, Detroit and Portland. The Hornets will also try to extend their recent run of success at home in recent weeks – after opening the schedule 3-12 in their home venue, they’ve gone 6-3 here since. NOLA also defeated every other Southwest Division club in January, including a four-game winning streak that featured victories over Dallas, San Antonio and Houston.
Tuesday’s game against Chicago commences a second half of the season for New Orleans that is filled with home dates. The Hornets will play seven of their next nine games in the familiar environs of the New Orleans Arena. In the post-All-Star portion of the schedule, the Hornets also have 17 of 29 total games at home.
Intriguing matchup: Power forward, Anthony Davis vs. Carlos Boozer
A Chicago native, Davis gets his first crack at the Bulls, after missing the Nov. 3 game due to the concussion he sustained in a Nov. 2 game vs. Utah. Davis will have his hands full while trying to defend Boozer, a past All-Star. The Hornets did a commendable defensive job against Boozer on Nov. 3, holding him to just four points and 1-for-8 shooting.
You can’t assess the Bulls’ 2012-13 season without first going back to April 28, 2012. In Game 1 of an Eastern Conference playoff series vs. Philadelphia, Bulls star point guard Derrick Rose sustained a serious injury with an ACL tear in his left knee. Projections on how long the injury might keep Rose out of action varied at the time, but the former league MVP has not yet returned to the floor. He recently told USA Today that he is “far away” from coming back, raising the possibility that he may be better served waiting until 2013-14 to play again. In Rose’s absence, the Bulls have remained one of the best teams in the East, not far from second-place New York in the conference standings. Several players have increased their scoring production, and the Bulls have always been a fierce defensive team under third-year head coach Tom Thibodeau.
Small forward Luol Deng is a jack of all trades for the Bulls, averaging nearly 40 minutes and contributing in a multitude of ways. One of the best individual defenders in the NBA, the native of Sudan is also Chicago’s No. 1 scorer and third-leading rebounder. With a fundamentally-sound offensive style that rarely yields highlight-reel plays, Deng has an old-school game.
On the rise
Past NBA slam dunk contest champion Nate Robinson has bounced around the league in recent years, playing for Oklahoma City, Golden State and Chicago since 2010-11. Robinson, who was familiar with Thibodeau from a prior stint with Boston, is enjoying arguably the best season of his career, often coming off the bench to spark the Bulls. The 5-foot-9 sparkplug is Chicago’s third-leading scorer.
The Bulls’ depth was seemingly ravaged in the offseason when players such as Omer Asik (Houston), Kyle Korver (Atlanta) and Ronnie Brewer (New York) departed the Windy City for other teams. However, Chicago has received valuable contributions from previous bench mainstay Taj Gibson, as well as rapidly improving Jimmy Butler and a former Hornets player, shooting guard Marco Belinelli.
On the sideline
Thibodeau gained a reputation as one of the NBA’s defensive masterminds during stints as an assistant coach with New York, Houston and Boston. The 2008 Celtics won the NBA championship, with several players giving Thibodeau credit for making them a formidable club on the defensive end. Thibodeau was named NBA Coach of the Year in 2010-11, his debut season in the top position. He also earned the job of Eastern Conference All-Star head coach in 2011.
Did you know?
Bulls rookie point guard Marquis Teague was a teammate of the Hornets’ Anthony Davis during their one collegiate season at the University of Kentucky. Teague and Davis helped lead the Wildcats to the NCAA title, defeating Kansas in the championship game played at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
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