By: Jim Eichenhofer, Hornets.com, @Jim_Eichenhofer
January 21, 2013
In what’s become a New Orleans Hornets tradition, the team hosts an annual matinee game on Martin Luther King Day. For the sixth consecutive year since the club’s full-time return to the Big Easy in 2007-08, the Hornets will play on their home floor, this time against the Sacramento Kings. Along with the city of New Orleans, other Southern locations such as Memphis and Atlanta celebrate the legacy of the civil-rights leader by playing at home each January on the Monday holiday.
The Jan. 21 contest between New Orleans and Sacramento marks just the first meeting of the 2012-13 regular season between the Western Conference clubs, despite the fact that it is Game No. 41 of the 82-game campaign for the Hornets. The squads will meet again in New Orleans on Feb. 24, then wrap up their three-game head-to-head season series on April 10 in Sacramento. The Hornets’ lone trip to the capital of California will come at the end of a five-game road trek that was necessitated by the Women’s NCAA Final Four taking place in the Crescent City.
The game against Sacramento is the second of 10 consecutive New Orleans games against Western Conference foes, including a Super Bowl week trip to Memphis, the Los Angeles Lakers, Utah, Denver and Minnesota.
Intriguing matchup: Shooting guard, Eric Gordon vs. Tyreke Evans
Two high-scoring wings who recently returned from injury meet for the first time since the 2010-11 season. Gordon and Evans faced each other regularly when Gordon was a member of the Los Angeles Clippers in the Pacific Division, but Gordon was traded to New Orleans prior to the 2011-12 season. Evans, who was voted Rookie of the Year in 2009-10, got back on the floor on Jan. 7 against Memphis, after suffering a knee injury. Gordon made his season debut on Dec. 29 at Charlotte, sparking a come-from-behind victory over the Bobcats.
It says a lot about the Kings’ recent past that their 15-24 overall record entering the weekend still put them on pace for their best winning percentage since 2007-08. Indeed, it’s been a rough few years for Sacramento, which also has recently had to contend with the distraction of uncertainty regarding the franchise’s future. Recent reports have indicated that the club’s owners are in negotiations to sell, potentially to a group that would move the team to Seattle by next season.
Sacramento experienced relatively little roster turnover during the 2012 offseason, with the only major additions being lottery draft pick Thomas Robinson (Kansas), free-agent guard Aaron Brooks (who played in China during the 2011-12 season) and trade pickup James Johnson (Toronto). Robinson has come off the bench as a rookie, while Brooks was the starter at point guard for a spell. Johnson provides frontcourt depth and nailed a game-winning three-pointer to beat New York at the buzzer in December.
Third-year center DeMarcus Cousins has the ability to dominate games in the paint, using his 6-foot-11, 270-pound frame, quick feet and touch around the rim to score and rebound. Unfortunately for the 22-year-old, he’s also received multiple suspensions in his brief pro career due to immaturity and conduct deemed detrimental to the team. Cousins returned from a team suspension in late December and compiled several big games, including a 31-point, 20-rebound outburst in a win at Toronto.
On the rise
Jimmer Fredette was heavily criticized nationally after his disappointing rookie season in 2011-12, but has improved across the board in Year 2, upping his field-goal and three-point percentages considerably. The former college sensation at Brigham Young University gives the poor-shooting Kings a much-needed perimeter option.
Shooting guards Marcus Thornton and Tyreke Evans are streaky scorers who are capable of putting up 30 points on any given night. Thornton, a former Hornet and an LSU product, has primarily come off the bench this season for Sacramento. Evans has battled injuries throughout 2012-13 but recently returned and is the Kings’ second-leading scorer.
On the sideline
A native of Baton Rouge, Kings head coach Keith Smart is in his first full season at the helm. Smart took over for Paul Westphal seven games into last season; Sacramento finished 22-44, one game ahead of New Orleans. Smart played briefly in the NBA, but is perhaps best known among fans for making the game-winning shot for Indiana University in the 1987 NCAA championship game vs. Syracuse. The ’87 title contest took place in New Orleans.
Did you know?
Hornets small forward Al-Farouq Aminu and Johnson were teammates at Wake Forest University during the 2008-09 season. That Demon Deacons team also included current NBA guards Jeff Teague (Atlanta) and Ish Smith (Orlando).
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