By: Jim Eichenhofer, Hornets.com, @Jim_Eichenhofer
January 19, 2013
After struggling to consistently defend their homecourt during the first two months of the regular season, the New Orleans Hornets take a three-game home winning streak into their Saturday matchup against the Golden State Warriors. New Orleans recently went 3-0 on its Jan. 7-11 homestand, defeating formidable Western Conference clubs San Antonio and Houston, as well as West postseason contender Minnesota. Combined with a Jan. 5 overtime victory in Dallas, the Hornets have reeled off four consecutive wins against teams from their own conference. Overall, the Hornets are 6-1 since Jan. 5.
New Orleans’ turnaround has coincided with the return to the floor of shooting guard Eric Gordon, who has given the Hornets a full-strength lineup for the first time all season. The Hornets went 6-3 with Gordon in uniform during the 2011-12 season and are 6-2 this season, for a combined won-loss record of 12-5.
Over the past few weeks, the Hornets have exacted revenge on several teams they’d lost to early in the 2012-13 season. They will try to do the same Saturday vs. Golden State, one of the NBA’s most surprising teams. The Warriors and Hornets faced off on Dec. 18 in California, with Golden State posting a 103-96 victory. New Orleans rallied back into the game in the second half, but couldn’t overcome an early deficit or dig out of a 59-50 halftime hole.
Much like with the Hornets, one of the biggest determining factors to success over the past two seasons for the Warriors has been a healthy roster. Golden State leading scorer Stephen Curry has battled severe ankle sprains throughout his career, but played in each of the team’s first 36 games this season. The Warriors’ season also figured to hinge on the health status of center Andrew Bogut, but despite Bogut appearing in just four games, the club was 23-14 entering this weekend.
Intriguing matchup: Power forward, Anthony Davis vs. David Lee
In the Dec. 18 meeting in Oakland, both players put up big numbers in the paint. Lee paced the Warriors by registering a team-high 26 points (including 10-for-16 shooting from the field) along with nine rebounds. Davis produced one of his best early-season performances by notching 15 points, 16 rebounds and four steals. Defending the 6-foot-9, 240-pound Lee is no easy task, particularly given his accurate mid-range shooting and array of post moves.
Perhaps no NBA franchise has experienced a more frustrating past two decades than the Warriors, who have only qualified for the playoffs once since the 1994-95 season. That partly explains why the opening two months of 2012-13 have been so sweet for long-suffering Golden State fans. The Warriors raced out to a 23-14 start, putting them on pace for their best winning percentage in 21 years. It’s been such a drastic turnaround for Golden State that the tally of 23 victories already matched their entire total from last season, when they went 23-43. Just as promising for the Warriors, their roster is comprised primarily of young players who should only improve as they gain experience.
Golden State had three selections during the 2012 NBA Draft and has received important contributions from each player. Lottery pick Harrison Barnes (North Carolina) immediately cracked the starting lineup, filling a previous team weakness at small forward. Fellow first-round pick Festus Ezeli (Vanderbilit) has filled in at starting center for Andrew Bogut and done an admirable job, while second-rounder Draymond Green (Michigan State) has at times been a catalyst off the bench. The Warriors also made two critical veteran acquisitions to fortify their bench, which had been a glaring weakness. Backup point guard Jarrett Jack and reserve power forward Carl Landry have excelled in their debut seasons with the Warriors.
Often described as one of the NBA’s most underrated players, David Lee is a strong candidate to become the Warriors’ first All-Star selection since Latrell Sprewell in 1997. Lee previously made the All-Star team in 2010 as a member of the New York Knicks, but has rarely received individual recognition, largely due to playing on losing teams.
On the rise
Warriors guard Stephen Curry is enjoying the finest season of his four-year pro career. The 24-year-old Davidson product is arguably the NBA’s most lethal perimeter shooter, with a quick release that forces defenders to guard him closely. Curry only played in 26 games last season during an injury-plagued campaign, but his consistent presence on the court in 2012-13 has helped make the Warriors a feared team in the Western Conference.
If Curry doesn’t give opponents enough to worry about when facing the Golden State backcourt, fellow starting guard Klay Thompson also possesses a smooth shooting stroke from three-point range. Expected by many to author a breakout year in 2012-13, Thompson has instead struggled a bit with his touch, at just 39.9 percent from the field. Still, Thompson is always capable of big scoring nights – he registered 19 vs. New Orleans in the Dec. 18 matchup.
On the sideline
Longtime NBA point guard Mark Jackson took over Golden State in 2011-12 and vowed to turn the traditionally defense-averse Warriors into a tougher and stingier club. His philosophy is clearly working. In his second-ever season as a coach (Jackson was an NBA broadcaster following his playing days), the Warriors are the league’s most improved team.
Did you know?
Along with former Hornets players Jack and Landry, Warriors assistant coach Michael Malone was a member of the Hornets’ coaching staff in 2010-11. New Orleans reached the playoffs that season, falling to the Lakers in the first round.
|Players the Warriors want shooting free throws in a close game…||If the Warriors need a three-pointer, three of their best options are…|