March 12, 2012

Following a challenging four-game road trip last week, all against Western Conference opponents, the New Orleans Hornets return to their home floor for a Monday night matchup vs. the Charlotte Bobcats. With the New Orleans Arena booked for the SEC men's basketball tournament from March 8-11, the Hornets headed out West, but returned this week for a three-game homestand. On Wednesday and Thursday, they'll host back-to-back games against the Los Angeles Lakers and Washington. Six of the Hornets' next seven contests will take place in New Orleans, including games March 21-24 vs. Golden State, the Los Angeles Clippers and San Antonio.

This is the first of a pair of late-season meetings between the Hornets and Bobcats, two clubs that have spent the majority of 2011-12 at the bottom of the standings in their respective conference. On April 16, New Orleans will travel to Charlotte to wrap up the two-game season series, in Game No. 61 for the Hornets of their 66-game schedule.

The Hornets and Bobcats have experienced similar frustrations this season, including widespread injuries that have prevented numerous key players from consistently being on the floor. For the Hornets, shooting guard Eric Gordon's injury has been the most critical, with the team's projected No. 1 scorer limited to only two games. The Bobcats' struggles can also be attributed partly to being shorthanded in many games. Midway through the regular season, a handful of Charlotte players had already missed at least double-digit games due to injury, including leading scorer Gerald Henderson, potent offensive wing Corey Maggette and incumbent starting point guard D.J. Augustin. Among the Bobcats' five players who average the most points on the squad, only rookie point guard Kemba Walker managed to avoid the injury bug during the initial two-plus months of 2011-12.

Intriguing matchup: Point guard, Jarrett Jack vs. D.J. Augustin
In a semi-ironic twist, Jack starred in college deep in ACC country as a member of the Georgia Tech Yellowjackets, but now plays for New Orleans, while Augustin is a New Orleans native but suits up for North Carolina's lone NBA franchise. Now in his fourth NBA season, Augustin has been a thorn in the Hornets' side during his previous professional visits to his hometown. Jack and fellow Hornets point guard Greivis Vasquez will focus on preventing Augustin from firing wide-open jumpers from beyond the three-point arc.


With 32 losses in their first 37 games this season, the Bobcats have taken a comfortable "lead" on the rest of the league in securing the most favorable slot during the NBA draft lottery on May 30. However, based on the NBA's standard lottery format, even the team with the worst record in the league only carries a 25 percent chance of winning the top overall pick. The Bobcats, who have only been in existence since 2004-05, were a playoff team in the Eastern Conference two seasons ago, but regressed to 34-48 in 2010-11 and have experienced a forgettable current campaign. Charlotte actually began the regular season with a 2-4 mark (including victories over Milwaukee and New York), but proceeded to lose 27 of their next 29 games. Entering the weekend, Charlotte had only won two road games all season, defeating New York (pre-Linsanity) and Toronto. The victory over the Raptors on Feb. 17 brought a merciful end to the Bobcats' 16-game losing streak.

Bobcats star
No individual Bobcats player has clearly stood out above the rest of his teammates this season, but starting shooting guard Gerald Henderson is the team's leading scorer and a promising talent. The son of former NBA guard Gerald Henderson - who most prominently played for the 1980s Boston Celtics - the 24-year-old is a third-year pro. The 6-foot-4, 215-pounder uses his athleticism to slash to the basket, but also is an accurate mid-range shooter. However, he probably needs to improve and extend his range, having only attempted 24 three-pointers in the Bobcats' first 37 games this season.

Bobcat on the rise
Point guard Kemba Walker has logged as many minutes as virtually any NBA rookie this season, partly a result of the Bobcats often being shorthanded. Like Hornets center Emeka Okafor, Walker became a household name among hoops fans by leading the University of Connecticut to a national championship. The Huskies weren't even a lock to qualify for the 2011 NCAA Tournament until they captured the Big East tournament title, but en route to earning the national crown somehow reeled off 11 straight victories. Walker's scoring prowess and clutch play made him easily UConn's most valuable player. His adjustment to the pro level has included some ups and downs, with the 6-foot-1, 172-pounder shooting below 40 percent from the field.

On the sideline
Bobcats head coach Paul Silas should be a familiar face to longtime Hornets fans. The former rugged, blue-collar NBA forward was the first head coach in the New Orleans era of the franchise, guiding the 2002-03 squad to a 47-35 record and a berth in the playoffs. Silas also was the Hornets' head coach during their final four seasons in Charlotte. The Hornets finished with a winning record in each of his five years in charge, going 22-13, 49-33, 46-36, 44-38 and 47-35. He is the franchise's all-time leader in regular season victories as a head coach, with 208 (Allan Bristow is next at 207, followed by Byron Scott's 203). Silas assumed his current position midway through the 2010-11 season, when he replaced Larry Brown on an interim basis. The Bobcats responded with a 25-29 finish to last season, which led to Silas being named the permanent head coach.

Did you know?
According to the website, there are 13 active NBA players who were born in the state of Louisiana. The Bobcats have two of them, point guard D.J. Augustin (New Orleans) and power forward Tyrus Thomas (Baton Rouge). The other Pelican State-born players are Detroit center Greg Monroe (New Orleans), Philadelphia forward Thaddeus Young (New Orleans), Sacramento guard Marcus Thornton (Baton Rouge), Orlando forward Glen Davis (Baton Rouge), Orlando guard Von Wafer (Homer), Boston forward Brandon Bass (Baton Rouge), Utah forward Paul Millsap (Monroe), Indiana forward Danny Granger (New Orleans), Orlando guard Chris Duhon (Mamou), Washington forward Rashard Lewis (Pineville) and Cleveland forward Antawn Jamison (Shreveport).

Players the Bobcats want shooting free throws in a close game... If the Bobcats need a three-pointer, three of their best options are...
Name Career FT percentage (through March 8)
Made 90.6 percent of his tries last season (269-for-297).
When healthy, constantly draws fouls and gets to line.
One of NBA's most improved players is at 84.6 this season.
Name Career three-point percentage (through March 8)
Like several teammates, is in midst of major shooting slump.
New Orleans native is 9-for-13 career on treys in the Hive.
UConn product has struggled a bit from deeper NBA arc.

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