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HORNETS VS. PISTONS
By: Jim Eichenhofer, Hornets.com, @Jim_Eichenhofer
December 8, 2010

The Detroit Pistons, a team in transition, visit the New Orleans Hornets, during the first of two meetings between the interconference foes that will take place over an 11-day span. Later this month, New Orleans is scheduled to head to Auburn Hills, Mich., to take on the Pistons again on Dec. 19.

After nearly a decade of consistently fielding one of the NBAs best teams including capturing the league championship in 2004 by upsetting the Lakers in the Finals the Pistons have declined in recent seasons. A string of injuries contributed to Detroit missing the NBA playoffs in 2009-10 for the first time since 2000-2001 with a 27-55 record, the franchises fewest victories over an 82-game schedule in 16 years. Although a few members from the 04 championship team remain, including Richard Hamilton, Ben Wallace and Tayshaun Prince, the balance of the roster is filled with new faces.

The Pistons are healthier this winter than last season, but have struggled again out of the gate, sporting a 7-14 record through Dec. 6. Detroits lineup features multiple scoring threats who can put up 20-plus points on any given night, but the teams once-feared defense has slipped to where it is often giving up over 100 points to opponents.

Detroit still relies heavily on a large cast of proven veteran performers, but the Pistons are also trying to integrate a few young players into the mix, such as 2009 first-round choice Austin Daye and 10 lottery pick Greg Monroe, a New Orleans-area native who hails from the Westbank.



INTRIGUING MATCH-UP


Shooting guard, Marco Belinelli vs. Richard Hamilton
Hamilton was the biggest individual factor in Detroits 110-104 overtime victory over New Orleans on Jan. 15 of last season. The veteran shooting guard racked up 32 points in the game, going 10-for-22 from the field and 12-for-14 from the foul line. Perhaps not coincidentally, in Detroits loss to New Orleans last season, Hamilton sat out due to injury. Belinelli is one of several additions to the Hornets roster that have helped them become perhaps the NBAs most improved team defensively. This will be one of his tougher assignments. Its also possible that New Orleans ace defender Trevor Ariza will be matched up against Hamilton depending on whos on the floor for each team.



HORNETS.COM SCOUTING REPORT
A closer look at the Detroit Pistons:


Rodney Stuckey


Charlie Villanueva

GUARDS
On a team loaded with offensive-minded players, fourth-year point guard Rodney Stuckey has emerged as Detroits top scoring threat in 2010-11. A virtual unknown prior to being drafted by the Pistons out of tiny Eastern Washington, Stuckey was one of the primary reasons Detroit was willing to part with 2004 NBA Finals MVP Chauncey Billups in a franchise-altering trade with Denver. The 6-foot-5, 205-pounder is one of the most physically imposing point guards in the league; he uses his frame to frequently drive to the basket. Most opponents try to force Stuckey to launch perimeter shots, where hes been much less comfortable. Through the first 20 games of this season, hed only attempted 20 three-pointers.

Shooting guard Richard Hamilton is one of the Pistons three remaining members from their championship team of 04. For over a decade, Hamilton has been one of the leagues best players at using picks to work his way open for mid-range jumpers, somewhat of a lost art. The former University of Connecticut standouts professional career blossomed when he was traded by the Washington Wizards then led by Michael Jordan to the Pistons in 2002.

One of the NBAs most feared high-scoring reserves throughout the bulk of his excellent years with the Chicago Bulls, shooting guard Ben Gordon signed as a free agent with Detroit in the summer of 2009. Based on his career norms, Gordon has struggled in a Pistons uniform, making a much smaller impact than he did with the Bulls. The 6-foot-3 shooting guard remains an excellent three-point shooter, but reduced playing time has factored into his statistical decline. Gordon began 2010-11 with 20-plus points in four of the first six games, but recently went through a five-game stretch in which he averaged 7.0 points.

Tracy McGrady is a recognizable name around the NBA due to his All-Star exploits with previous teams Orlando and Houston. Unfortunately for the once high-scoring wing player, injuries have curtailed his effectiveness in recent seasons. Through the first month of the season, the 31-year-old was averaging career-lows in virtually every category.

Backup point guard Will Bynum is a streaky scorer who brings energy to the Pistons second unit. Late in the 2008-09 season, the Georgia Tech product set a franchise record with 26 points in a quarter vs. Charlotte.

FORWARDS
A long-limbed 6-foot-9 defender, small forward Tayshaun Prince emerged as a key contributor during his 2002-03 rookie season, helping the Pistons reach the Eastern Conference finals. Detroit thought so highly of Prince that it passed up the chance in the 2003 draft to select Carmelo Anthony who also plays small forward with the No. 2 pick, instead selecting Darko Milicic. While known largely for his defense and hustle, Prince is also Detroits second-leading scorer.

Like Gordon, Charlie Villanueva signed with Detroit as a free agent in the summer of 2009. Now in his second season as a Piston, the skilled 6-foot-11 power forward is difficult to guard because he can post up smaller defenders and also knock down three-pointers. Villanueva racked up 30 points against the Clippers on Nov. 12, including five three-pointers.

Austin Daye began his second NBA season as a starter for the Pistons, but has been moved to the second unit in recent weeks. The Gonzaga product is cut from a similar mold as Villanueva hes 6-foot-11, but often is most comfortable playing away from the basket.

While Dayes minutes have dipped recently, power forward Jason Maxiells have often increased. The rugged 6-foot-7, 260-pound Maxiell has started in roughly half of Detroits games this season, bringing rebounding and toughness.

High-flying power forward Chris Wilcox has been a starter for various teams during his nine-year career, but is being utilized sparingly by the Pistons, appearing in just three of their first 21 games.

CENTERS
New Orleans-area native and NBA rookie Greg Monroe appeared in 19 of the Pistons first 21 games, with his role and impact gradually increasing in recent weeks. The left-hander, who hails from the Westbank, posted season-highs in minutes (31) and points (15) on Dec. 1 at Miami, when he went 7-for-8 from the field. Monroe was the seventh overall pick in the 2010 NBA Draft out of Georgetown, where he displayed his above-average passing and shooting skills.

Ben Wallaces blue-collar style of play has been a fitting symbol of the Pistons success for much of the past decade (Detroit has often used the slogan Hard At Work in its marketing and advertising campaigns). The rugged Wallace is perhaps best-known for his outstanding rebounding and defense, skills that have kept him in the Pistons starting lineup even at age 36. Hes also one of the most beloved players in franchise history, with some Detroit fans sporting Fear the Fro afro wigs at home games in honor of one of Wallaces trademark hairstyles.

Players the Pistons want shooting free throws in a close game
Name Career FT percentage (through Dec. 6)
Ben Gordon 86.0
Established himself as feared clutch shooter with Chicago.
Richard Hamilton 85.3
At age 32, trips to stripe have decreased in recent years.
Rodney Stuckey 82.4
Gets to the foul line far more than any Pistons player.
If the Pistons need a three-pointer, three of their best options are
Name Career 3-PT% (through Dec. 6)
Ben Gordon 40.5
Lethal when he gets hot, has twice made nine treys in a game.
Tayshaun Prince 37.2
Awkward-looking left-handed shot is surprisingly accurate.
Charlie Villanueva 34.0
Loves to launch threes. Taking five per game early in 2010-11.




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