By: Jim Eichenhofer, Hornets.com, @Jim_Eichenhofer
April 12, 2013
As the New Orleans Hornets (soon-to-be renamed Pelicans) attempt to ascend in the Western Conference next season, establishing a dominant homecourt advantage will likely be one key objective. New Orleans began the 2012-13 regular season with 13 losses in its first 16 home games, but has been significantly better here over the past three-plus months.
When the Los Angeles Clippers visit the Big Easy on Friday evening, the Hornets will try to add to their recent improved performance in the familiar surroundings of the New Orleans Arena. Since a New Year’s Day loss to Atlanta here, New Orleans has gone 13-10 on its home hardwood, a drastic turnaround from the 3-13 start at home.
Among the 13 home victories since early 2013 have been triumphs over playoff teams San Antonio, Houston, Boston, Memphis and Denver. The March 25 win over the Nuggets snapped that club’s 15-game winning streak. New Orleans will conclude its 41-game regular season home schedule on Sunday, hosting the Dallas Mavericks. The Hornets have not fared nearly as well on the road of late, snapping an eight-game losing streak in away games by defeating Phoenix on Sunday. However, one of New Orleans’ finest road wins of 2012-13 occurred in its first meeting with the Clippers, a 105-98 verdict in Los Angeles back on Nov. 26.
Los Angeles gained a 2-1 season-series advantage over New Orleans by prevailing in the past two encounters. The Clippers registered a 93-77 victory at home on Dec. 19, then won 105-91 in New Orleans just two-plus weeks ago, on March 27.
In virtually every measurable category, this has been the best regular season in the 43-year history of the Clippers franchise. The Clippers have posted 50 wins for the first time ever. They also wrapped up the first Pacific Division title in the star-crossed organization’s history by – perhaps fittingly – defeating the Los Angeles Lakers on Sunday in a nationally-televised game. Long known as the “other” NBA club in the city of Los Angeles, the Clippers have wrested away top-team status from the Lakers, who are in jeopardy of missing the Western Conference playoffs despite the presence of four potential Hall of Famers. The Clippers may be headed for a first-round playoff rematch with the Memphis Grizzlies, but the seedings are subject to change over the final week of the regular season.
There are a variety of statistics that NBA analysts use to prove point guard Chris Paul’s value to the Clippers. Perhaps the most telling this season is that in the first 66 games he played, the Clippers went 46-20. Meanwhile, in the dozen games he missed due to injury, Los Angeles was a mediocre 6-6. The pass-first All-Star has always had an ability to make his teammates better, which has elevated the Clippers to elite status in the Western Conference.
On the rise
Among the five Clippers who are averaging double-digit points, hard-nosed small forward Matt Barnes is undoubtedly the most unheralded. Regarded primarily as a tough defender throughout his 10-year NBA career, the former elite high school football player has also been a reliable perimeter shooter. The UCLA product averages more minutes per game than the starter at small forward, Caron Butler.
Jamal Crawford has not started a game all season for Los Angeles, but that hasn’t stopped the explosive offensive player from becoming the Clippers’ third-leading scorer. Fortunately for the Hornets, Crawford has been held in check in the three prior meetings (13.3 points per game), but he’s always capable of breaking out for 20-plus points.
On the sideline
Clippers head coach Vinny Del Negro guided his team to a perfect 16-0 record in December and its first-ever division title. As a starting shooting guard for the San Antonio Spurs, Del Negro was also part of a 16-0 month, in March 1996. Monty Williams was a teammate on those 1995-96 Spurs.
Did you know?
The Hornets clinched their only division title in team history on April 15, 2008, when they defeated the Clippers by a 114-92 margin.
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