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GAME 45 vs New Orleans, Preview & Game Thread

NEW ORLEANS HORNETS (Good)  Awesome offense, awesome defense, slow pace
SACRAMENTO KINGS    (Iffy)  Okay offense, terrible defense, fast pace

I'm not really in the mood for typing at this moment... which makes it great relief I exchanged plesantries with's Ryan Schwan this week. I asked some pertinent questions about the Hornets, and his answers follow:
Q: Tyson Chandler's obviously a defensive monster, and Chris Paul got good instincts, too. But looking at the rest of the rotation... this shouldn't be such a good defense. How have they done it?

A: Yeah - it doesn't seem like they'd be a top 5 defense, does it?  My Hornets247 co-blogger Ron Hitley recently wrote this about our defense:

"The Hornets defensive rotation has amazed me recently. Next time Chris is playing D out high, and his man feeds the post, watch what happens. Against the Spurs, Parker would feed Duncan inside, and Chris would drop down to double. Our weak side guard (usually Mo-Pete), would then come across to cover Parker. Now when Duncan would kick it back out to Parker, Chris wouldn't even look to get back out there, not even glance in that direction, because he knows his teammate has him covered. Instead, he would turn and go right across the lane to find whoever Peterson had left. It's amazing how much trust they must have in each other to do this right. If one guy messes up it all falls apart."

It's true - this starting five works together beautifully.  They cover each other, defend hard, and foul intelligently.  They give up less free throws than any other team in the league.  Even Peja of the much-maligned defense works well for us.  He may have trouble with an explosive perimeter scorer(who doesn't?) and avoids giving hard fouls under the hoop, but in general he's got great anticipation and closes out beautifully on three point shooters.  Plus, he's tall. For that matter, the whole starting five is tall besides Paul.  Chandler's 7'1", West is 6'9", Peja 6'10", Peterson 6'7".  Not so easy to shoot over that.

Q: Could David West be a bigger factor than he is, or is his offensive role sort of topped out? Should we expect even more in the future, or just more consistent, workmanlike 20/10s?

A: West is something of an anomaly.  Unlike a lot of players, he does work hard at his game, and has managed to add something to his offensive game every year.  He started as a bare rebounding foul machine in his first year, cut the fouls in his second, added an automatic jumpshot in his third, developed a solid two dribble-drive in his fourth, and has now put it all together into a full post game where he can go left or right.  He also cleans up issues every year - Last year he got called every game for the first twenty games for pump-faking and then taking steps before the ball hit the floor.  Never see it anymore.  He started this season being called for lowering the shoulder once every game.  Now his angle of approach has changed, and he's rarely called for it.  That said, I'm not sure what else he can add to his game at this point.  He is undersized, and that does limit him some for a post player.  He's also on a team with a lot of offensive options and he's unselfish.  I can't see his PPG going much higher than 21 or 22, though I do expect his assists to rise.  He's already more than doubled his assists in January  over what he was doing in November.

Q: As of today, has the Peja signing been a good move? If you could cancel it today, would you?

A: I would not cancel it.  Yes, he's overpaid.  Yes, it hurt horribly last year when he missed most of the season with back issues.  But in the end, his role is vital to this teams success, and there aren't many guys I can think of who would fill it better than him.(Rashard Lewis, maybe? But look what he's making.) He's not the Peja who was getting MVP consideration for part of '02-'03, but he's about 80-85% of that guy, and he only has to serve as the team's third option.  I can tell you it's nice to have a guy easily capable of 20 points a game serving as our third offensive option.

A billion gratitudes to Ryan, both for the insight and the reprieve from thinking.

Go Kings.