March 3, 2012
In the second game of a rare home back-to-back for the New Orleans Hornets, they face one of the Eastern Conferences playoff contenders, the Indiana Pacers. Its the second matchup between the interconference foes over just a 12-day span. The Hornets will attempt to even the season series Saturday on their home floor, after losing a hard-fought 117-108 overtime game at Indianapolis on Mardi Gras Day, Feb. 21. In this abbreviated 66-game schedule, Western Conference teams play only three East teams twice. For the Hornets, those opponents are the Pacers, Chicago Bulls and Charlotte Bobcats. New Orleans went 0-2 against Chicago, but still has both games remaining on the docket against Charlotte (March 12 here, April 16 in North Carolina).
The Hornets have been considerably more successful against the East than while facing their own conference. Entering the weekend, New Orleans had five victories over East clubs, but just three against West counterparts.
In the Feb. 21 meeting at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, the Hornets rallied in the fourth quarter to force overtime, partly behind Trevor Arizas team-best 21 points. Jarrett Jack added 19 points, while Chris Kaman (17 points) and Marco Belinelli (15 points) also contributed double-digit scoring. Unfortunately for the Hornets, the overtime period was dominated by the Pacers, who enjoyed a 17-8 scoring advantage. The Pacers had a chance to win it in regulation, but Paul Georges shot at the buzzer misfired. Both clubs were excellent at the offensive end of the floor, with New Orleans shooting 53 percent from the field and Indiana connecting on exactly half of its attempts (44-for-88).
Intriguing matchup: Point guard, Greivis Vasquez/Jarrett Jack vs. Darren Collison
Vasquez played extremely well after being moved into the starting lineup as a result of Jacks injury absence, particularly in the assist department, where Vasquezs increased familiarity with teammates has sparked the offense. In the Feb. 21 game, Collison had one of his best games of 2011-12, with 18 points, eight rebounds and six assists, so the Hornets will focus on trying to slow down the fleet 6-footer. As a reserve on Feb. 21, Jack also fared extremely well, registering 19 points and 10 assists. That was Jacks third double-figure assist performance of 2011-12 and first since Jan. 4.
HORNETS.COM SCOUTING REPORT: INDIANA PACERS
After missing the Eastern Conference playoffs for four straight years, the Pacers went 37-45 and claimed the No. 8 seed in 2010-11 and gave the Chicago Bulls a surprisingly difficult first-round test before being eliminated in five games. In an effort to move up another level in the East standings in 2011-12, the Pacers made a critical free-agent signing in December by landing David West, one of the finest players in Hornets history. After eight seasons with New Orleans, the 6-foot-9 power forward ranks in the top five all time in multiple categories, including No. 2 in career points (8,690). Only guard Dell Curry (9,839) scored more points in a Hornets uniform than West. The addition of the Xavier (Ohio) product appears to have paid immediate dividends, with Indiana sporting a 22-12 overall record. The Pacers have not finished over .500 since the 2004-05 season, which incidentally was Wests second year in the NBA. In recent weeks Indianas fortunes have been very up and down, featuring a five-game losing streak and five-game winning streak in the last 10 games. The Pacers defeated New Jersey, Charlotte twice, New Orleans and Golden State during their current handful of consecutive victories.
Although several Pacers have a longer track record of NBA success including two-time All-Star West and past All-Star and New Orleans native Danny Granger the clubs lone representative at last weekends 2012 All-Star Game was 7-foot-2 center Roy Hibbert. The fourth-year pro demonstrated why he was a first-time selection to the midseason showcase on Feb. 21, when he poured in 30 points against the Hornets. The Georgetown product was a force in the paint, grabbing 13 rebounds (7 on the offensive end) and making 11 of his 17 shots from the field. He also swatted three Hornets shots.
Pacer on the rise
Second-year shooting guard Paul George possesses an enviable package of all-around skills. As a rookie, George was known primarily for his athleticism and highlight-reel dunks, but the Fresno State product has greatly improved his three-point shooting touch, at 41 percent on the season. Prior to a recent slight drop in accuracy, George was at the top of the league in that statistic. The 21-year-old is also a solid one-on-one defender, averaging a team-best 1.5 steals per game.
On the sideline
The Hornets Monty Williams held the title of youngest head coach in the NBA midway through the 2010-11 season, but no longer carried the distinction after Frank Vogel took over the reins of the Pacers on Jan. 30, 2011. Vogel is just 38 years old, but has a considerable amount of experience in the league as an assistant coach. He moved up the ranks in the coaching profession the old-fashioned way, starting as a video coordinator with the Boston Celtics in the 1990s under Rick Pitino. After initially being named sideline boss of Indiana on an interim basis, Vogel was given the permanent job in July 2011. The Pacers went 20-18 under Vogel last season, after starting 17-27.
Did you know?
The Pacers may have more noteworthy connections to the Hornets and the city of New Orleans than any other NBA team. Granger is a high school graduate of Grace King in Metairie who was selected to the 2009 All-Star Game. Hes the Pacers leading scorer and has been their best player for the majority of his seven-year career, though his individual stats are down a bit this season. Meanwhile, West and Darren Collison were teammates on the 2009-10 Hornets squad that missed the playoffs amid a series of injuries to key players. West was selected to the All-Star team in 2008 and 2009 (the first of those games was held in New Orleans), while Collison earned a spot on the All-Rookie first team in 2009-10. He played a significant amount of minutes as a first-year pro due to multiple injury absences by first-string point guard Chris Paul.
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