STARTING LINEUP & INJURIES
The Hornets are also at full power. (Like Link, they can shoot their swords.) New Orleans has been able to use one starting line-up the entire season to date, which makes Paul Westphal feel needlessly insecure. The starting five for the Hornets is: Chris Paul, Marco Belinelli, Trevor Ariza, David West and Emeka Okafor.
Former 76ers Willie Green (backcourt) and Jason Smith (up front) are the bench Hornets with the largest roles. Jerryd Bayless would be in that group, but he is headed to Toronto as a part of a five-player deal. That means Bayless nor Peja Stojakovic will be available for the Hornets; neither will newcomers Jarrett Jack, Marcus Banks or David Andersen. This doesn't actually make any magic for the Kings -- Marcus Thornton will just likely take Bayless' minutes, and Quincy Pondexter could take whatever Peja would have gotten.
HighTops has a scouting report in the FanPosts. Check it out.
The Hornets come in with the league's third-best defense and sixth-best offense. That's real championship contender stuff. Of course, 11 games does not a season make. It's just a fantastic, wonderful start for new coach Monty Williams and the restructured Hornets.
It's hard to grok just how much an athleticism infusion on the wing has meant for Paul and the Hornets. Trevor Ariza is so wonderfully different from what Peja, James Posey and Morris Peterson offered in years past that I'm shocked there wasn't a rough transition period where CP3 learned how to use Ariza's physical gifts to best effects. Don't get me wrong -- Ariza's offense is still off, owed to the fact Paul has always gotten a bunch of his assists on threes, and being that Ariza still hasn't found the range he showed toward the end of his L.A. tenure. But in watching the Hornets, you see glimpses of what CP3 can do with a wing of Ariza's capabilities. That's only going to get better as the season runs along. If Ariza's jumper does come back, it makes this team highly frightening.
Of course, the Hornets may not even need Ariza's jumper. New Orleans is sixth in three-point percentage, thanks largely to Belinelli and Paul. The Italian takes 4.6 threes a game, yet manages to hit them at a 43 percent clip. (Bellissimo!) CP3 shoots less frequently from distance (2.1 per game), yet is above 50 percent. Peja has been the other awesome contributor from beyond the arc, hitting 11 of 25 from beyond the arc this year. Jack will be called upon to shoot when Williams played the former Yellow Jacket with CP3 in a double-PG line-up. Jack is a career 35 percent shooter. Paul's presence should nudge that up, assuming Paul continues to play heavy minutes and half of Jack's minutes come in relief of Belinelli.
What to make of Belinelli, who was essentially a waste of space in Golden State and Toronto? Two things: players thrive a lot more readily when given a real opportunity (versus scattered minutes), and, Lord above, Chris Paul is amazing. When you draw attention and disrupt defenses as frequently as CP3 does, everyone benefits. Except the opposing defense, which is typically bent over a barrel when CP3 begins his move.
The Kings' best shot at keeping up with the Hornets is to rely on Tyreke getting past the first defender (whether that be Paul, Belinelli or even Ariza) and either forcing Okafor to challenge (allowing a drop-off pass to a Kings big man) or foul. Okafor can change shots with the best of them, so the hope would be that Evans doesn't insist on challenging 'Meka mano a mano, and instead uses any gravitational pull in the lane to open up avenues for his friends.
I wouldn't be surprised if, early on, Paul marked Head, Belinelli marked Greene and Ariza took Evans. That's an even better option for New Orleans if Francisco Garcia replaces Greene, or if Beno Udrih replaces Head. At the other end, I'd surmise Head will start on Paul if only to conserve Evans' injury and not cause his ankles further damage. That means Evans on Belinelli (uh oh) and Greene on Ariza, which should be a great ... wait a second ... where's my new heading?
MATCHUP OF THE GAME
Greene vs. Ariza. The respective guards and bigs have plenty more star power, but these two athletic defenders could tell the story. Ariza can score in bunches when he's on, and while Greene will want to help on Paul, he must be wary. He must beware. Ariza will make bad decisions if you allow him to, so it's imperative that Greene challenge him. On the other end, I really do think Ariza will earn Tyreke duty -- Greene can shoot over or smoke Belinelli off the dribble if the opportunity presents itself, and not having to box out Ariza will mean an added boon to the offensive boards. Hopefully.
PLAYER TO WATCH
Cousins has been playing well, and should get some time against either Jason Smith or D.J. Mbenga. I hope those fellows called Johan Petro last night to say, "What's up?" Paul Westphal's theory that DMC would feast on back-up big men has started to materialize in reality, and tonight is a great opportunity to flesh it out.
By that same token, Cousins will also have some time matched up with Okafor. Tread lightly, my friend. Okafor has a thousand ways to mess you up, and, let's be honest, you don't need much help in that department every fifth possession or so.
Hornets come smokin'
into Sactown; hmm ... maybe
home court will return?
3 PM start. The basketball version of the Early Bird Special! Chris Paul, Tyreke Evans and chicken parmesan. Don't forget to take your pills. Comcast SportsNet, KHTK 1140 AM. Game threads at 3 and 4:30. Let's go Kings.