Spurs @ Hornets: 10/31/12
The San Antonio Spurs are largely the same team that won the most games in the NBA over the last two seasons.
The New Orleans Hornets have undergone sweeping changes to their roster, and both squads have reason for optimism as they meet to open the season in New Orleans on Wednesday night.
San Antonio returns a franchise-record 13 players from last season after going 50-16 to tie Chicago for the best record in the league. The club posted a 20-game winning streak and led 2-0 over Oklahoma City in the Western Conference finals.
The Spurs, though, lost the next four games and enter this season wanting more - preferably their first trip to the NBA finals since 2007.
"A lot of people see us as the nice Spurs," said guard Tony Parker, who averaged 18.3 points and a career-high 7.7 assists to earn his fourth All-Star selection last season. "We need to play like we're hungry, like we want it. We have to stop saying, 'Oh, we won a lot of championships, we'll come back next year.' We have to play with more attitude."
San Antonio is no longer necessarily viewed as the top-heavy West's perennial favorite, given the Thunder's emergence and the offseason moves that sent Dwight Howard and Steve Nash to Los Angeles to join forces with Kobe Bryant.
Still, the Spurs have seen little turnover from a lineup that averaged 103.7 points per game, second most in the league. Manu Ginobili returns, though back spasms limited him to 68 minutes in four preseason games and reigning Coach of the Year Greg Popovich ruled him out for Wednesday's opener.
San Antonio shot 39.3 percent from 3-point range last season - tops in the NBA. Tim Duncan averaged 15.9 points and 9.0 rebounds and returns for his 16th season.
By contrast, little looks the same for New Orleans, as nine players prepare to make their debut for a Hornets team that saw Tom Benson become its owner in the offseason.
Top overall draft pick Anthony Davis is the most prominent one on that list. He impressed in the preseason, averaging 14.9 points, 9.9 rebounds and 1.6 blocks in more than 32 minutes per game.
Davis' defense, along with that of new center Robin Lopez, should fortify a team that ranked eighth in the league with 93.4 points allowed per game.
New Orleans may need to be even better defensively after scoring only 89.6 points a contest last season, second lowest in the NBA. The Hornets hope the additions of big man Ryan Anderson and first-round pick Austin Rivers, as well as a healthier Eric Gordon, will allow them to improve at the offensive end.
Gordon was traded to New Orleans prior to last season and played in only nine games due to a knee injury. After re-signing for four years and $58 million, he sat out the preseason as a precaution and his status for Wednesday is uncertain, though he did participate in his first practice without limitations Sunday.
In only his fifth season, Gordon is one of the more experienced players on a roster with an average age of 24.
"We have a great future, looking ahead of us," said Gordon, who's averaged 18.2 points in his career. "A lot of young guys and it's built for the long run to be very good."
Questions about the guard's role surfaced after the Hornets drafted Rivers, who like Gordon can play both point and shooting guard.
"We think they can play together," general manager Dell Demps told the team's official website.
San Antonio swept all four meetings with New Orleans last season.
Copyright 2012 by STATS LLC and Associated Press. Any commercial use or distribution without the express written consent of STATS LLC and Associated Press is strictly prohibited.