Welcome to the regular season.
It's finally time for the real games to start... and what better way than to visit a markedly different team, one on the upswing with rising stars and an exicting frontcourt. One which blew the Kings out the last time they opened the season together. One which has a terrifying point guard and a terrifying (for us) center.
This season could be ugly (hence tonight's artwork -- Leap Into the Void by Yves Klein), and the ugliness could very well begin tonight. Here's a closer look at the proceedings to come.
The Hornets finished three games out of the playoffs last spring, more a victim of Golden State's torrid run and a rough patch in March (which included a six-game losing streak) than anything else. New Orleans finished down 1.5 points per game on their opponents -- about 0.3 points better than Sacramento, which is to say Sacramento wasn't as bad as everyone thinks.
The Hornets did most of the damage on defense, holding opponents to just below .500 eFG and finishing 7th in defensive rebounding. They were great at avoiding fouls (a testament to Tyson Chandler's mental growth), finishing with the sixth lowest free throws made per field goals attempted rate. Despite Chris Paul's pickpocketing skills, however, the team was among the worst in creating turnovers. Defensively, the major upgrade is Morris Peterson, who while aging can man up more consistently than Desmond Mason (who left for Milwaukee). The other major defensive strengths and weaknesses -- namely Paul and Tyson Chandler on the positive side, and Peja Stojakovic on the other -- remain in place.
New Orleans' offense last season was far below-average, finishing 23rd in points per possession. The main problem: shooting. Peja missed most of last year, so his return helps in theory. Peterson can also bang the open jumper, and that right there is two more big-time shooters than the team had last year (ignoring the very able but sparsely weaponized Devin Brown, who went to Cleveland). If Peterson took all the shots Mason had last year, the Hornets would be much better off. Even better? A solid portion of those will instead go to Paul or Peja (which may or may not be a good thing in the latter case, depending on his recovery).
I'd give the secret to stopping Paul, but one doesn't exist. Stopping Chandler? Send him to the foul line. He shot .527 from there last year. You can hope to turn him over frequently, too -- but he handles the ball so infrequently it's tough to make him do anything. The best solution is to keep him off the offensive boards, and well good luck with that, Brad Miller.
Off the bench, the Hornets mainly boast Bobby Jackson with perhaps a sprinkling of youth in Hilton Armstrong and StR favorite Julian Wright. You know Bobby well; Armstrong is an infrequent shooting roleplayer, Wright a possibly anonymous (for the time being) point-forward with lots of get-up.
THE LITTLE KNOWN FACTS
Ryan Bowen has his own official website. They'll just give those to anybody these days...
BLOGGING WITH THE ENEMY
Friend-of-humankind Ron Hitley from Hornets 24/7 thinks this could be the greatest game in the history of the universe. (I think he's excited, but I can't really tell.) TheHornetsFan doesn't expect Orien Greene to keep up with Paul. I say he's crazy.
The line is at +10 for the Kings... which astounds me. But if it were lower, I'd think the Kings were a good buy, so I guess Vegas just knows the Kings and Hornets better than I'd thought. Without Mike Bibby, New Orleans might be 10 points better. I wouldn't bet on it, though; most games end with margins around 7 points or less, and I don't see the Hornets being that good this early. The Kings, of course, could be that bad... but you're a lot safer taking the points here. I'd venture a 102-96 win for New Orleans, based on what little we know about our favorite team.
This game will begin at 5:00 p.m. Pacific. News10 has the television locally, and KHTK 1140 will bring you the sweet yet sultry tones of Gary Gerould. Enjoy, and let's go Kings.