By: Jim Eichenhofer, Hornets.com, @Jim_Eichenhofer
March 18, 2013
The New Orleans Hornets begin their longest homestand in recent memory Monday evening, when they host the Golden State Warriors in a Western Conference matchup. Over the next two weeks, Hornets fans will have the opportunity to see six of the 16 teams that will likely comprise the 2013 NBA playoff field. During its lengthy stretch of seven home games in 14 days, New Orleans will entertain Western Conference postseason hopeful Golden State, as well as virtual locks Memphis (Friday), Denver (March 25) and the Los Angeles Clippers (March 27). The Hornets also face Eastern Conference playoff club Boston on Wednesday, as well as Miami (March 29). The seven-game span ends on March 31 vs. Cleveland, the only New Orleans opponent of the seven that has no realistic chance of qualifying for the playoffs.
The Hornets hope to continue to build on their much-improved play in the New Orleans Arena over the past three months. While often playing shorthanded through Jan. 1, the Hornets were just 3-13 in their own building, but have gone 9-7 here since, including quality victories over San Antonio, Houston and Portland (twice). Their four previous March home games have all come down to the final two minutes, resulting in dramatic wins over Detroit and Portland, as well as heartbreaking defeats to Orlando and the Los Angeles Lakers.
New Orleans’ previous two matchups vs. Golden State this season have followed a similar storyline, with the Warriors building a semi-comfortable halftime lead, the Hornets mounting a second-half rally, but ultimately coming up short. Golden State posted a 103-96 victory against New Orleans on Dec. 18, then eked out a high-scoring 116-112 verdict in the Crescent City on Jan. 19.
Immediately following this seven-game homestand, the Hornets will head out West for a five-game road trip, beginning with an April 3 contest in Oakland against Golden State.
Intriguing matchup: Point guard, Greivis Vasquez vs. Stephen Curry
Vasquez and the Hornets’ defense must pay special attention to Curry, who produced one of the best games of the 2012-13 NBA regular season by any player. Curry, the son of Hornets all-time leading scorer Dell Curry, poured in 54 points at New York. Vasquez had 20 points and 11 assists at Golden State on Dec. 18, but struggled in the Jan. 19 game.
With only one playoff appearance since the 1994-95 season, Golden State supporters have had less to cheer about over the past two decades than virtually any NBA fan base. That’s changed drastically this season, with the Warriors on pace to qualify for the postseason for the first time since 2007. Golden State only needs a few more victories to end its current streak of four consecutive losing seasons. Like in the case of New Orleans, injuries have been a negative factor in recent years for Golden State, but the Warriors finally are relatively healthy this season. Under second-year head coach Mark Jackson, the emergence of rising talents such as Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and David Lee has sparked a drastic turnaround. At 37-29 in mid-March, the Warriors were one of the NBA’s most improved teams from 2011-12, when they finished just 23-43.
Lee has been Golden State’s most consistent and productive performer throughout his tenure with the franchise, though Curry has begun to narrow the gap as a potential team MVP. Lee was named a Western Conference All-Star in February, the first time a Warrior had received the prestigious honor since Latrell Sprewell in 1997. Curry, who poured in 54 points in a recent game at New York’s Madison Square Garden, was considered by many to be this season’s biggest All-Star snub. However, Curry figures to be a perennial All-Star if he continues his outstanding play.
On the rise
Thompson’s name was tossed around in the NBA rumor mill by some media members as a player the Warriors might consider trading, but it’s no surprise they decided to stand pat. Only in his second NBA season, Thompson has rapidly ascended as one of the league’s better shooting guards. The lethal perimeter marksman is the son of former NBA player and No. 1 overall draft Mychal Thompson, now a Lakers radio broadcaster.
One reason behind Golden State’s significant jump in the standings is its improved depth. Three rookies – Harrison Barnes, Festus Ezeli and Draymond Green – have given the Warriors a needed infusion of productive youth. Meanwhile, former Hornets players Carl Landry and Jarrett Jack have helped give Golden State one of the league’s most consistent benches.
On the sideline
After years of despair and making scant progress, the Warriors appear to have made an excellent choice when they hired Jackson as head coach prior to the 2011-12 season. Golden State was once known around the NBA for its sieve-like defense, but Jackson has helped push the Warriors up to 16th in defensive efficiency this season.
Did you know?
New Hornets big man Lou Amundson started seven games for the Warriors during the 2010-11 season, among his 46 appearances for Golden State.
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