Posted by Neil Paine on April 17, 2009
Coach: Byron Scott
Last NBA Title: None
5-Year Playoff Record: Won 1 Series, Lost 2, 0 Finals
Championship Odds: 0.2%
Key Question: How deep into the playoffs can Chris Paul carry this team?
Regular Season: Coming off a banner 2008 in which they pushed the Spurs to the brink of elimination in the playoffs, it was expected that Chris Paul & the Hornets would be even better in '09. Well, it turns out that we got half of that prediction right: Yes, Paul was better than ever, but the Hornets felt the sting of the Plexiglas Principle as their offense dropped from 5th to 12th and the defense slid as well. With Tyson Chandler, Peja Stojakovic, & David West all regressing, Paul had to give a superhuman effort just to secure the 7th seed for New Orleans.
Prime-Time Players: 1. Chris Paul. Here's the bottom line: CP3 is either the 2nd- or 3rd-best player in basketball, depending on whether you're a Wade guy or not. He's a sensational talent, and he makes this entire franchise go. But even he can't carry the entire load alone.
2. James Posey. The regular season was nice, but this time of year is basically the reason they picked up Posey. His postseason performances in Miami and Boston have earned him the reputation of a modern-day Robert Horry, but he'll have turn up the clutch dial until it snaps off in his hand if the Hornets are to do any serious damage in these playoffs.
3. David West. West was not as good in '09 as he had been the year before, but he's still a good offensive PF and played very well in the playoffs last season. His ability to command attention in the post and play the 2-man game with Paul will be vital to the Hornets vs. Denver, lest the Nuggets devote all of their resources to stopping the game's best PG.
But don't count on... Peja Stojakovic. Peja was a great player in his heyday, but the 31-year-old, oft-injured Stojakovic we saw in 2009 was little more than a glorified 3-point specialist, with jump shots comprising 87% of his attempts from the field. As a result, his scoring average slipped to 13.3 PPG this year, and he shot under 40% for the first time since his rookie season. There's no way Peja in his current lessened state can provide the kind of offensive (or defensive) support Chris Paul and the Hornets need to defeat Denver.
Why they can win: Paul is the best point guard in basketball (are we sensing a theme here?). They still play decent defense as well.
Why they can't win: They simply don't have enough firepower (apart from CP3 and West) to make a big splash in this conference.
X-Factor: Tyson Chandler. Chandler had been good throughout 2008 and had great rapport with Paul, but he's been injured, traded, untraded, and just generally ineffectual ever since November. If he is somehow able to reclaim that '08 form, it would go a long towards helping the Hornets pull off the upset.
|Hornets vs.||Off.||Def.||Reb.||Coach||Exp.||The Skinny||Prediction|
|Dallas||X||Push||Paul too quick for Kidd, Mavs||Hornets in 7|
|Denver||X||Paul could make it too close for Denver's comfort||Nuggets in 7|
|Houston||X||Rockets' defense keeps CP3 at bay enough to win||Rockets in 6|
|Los Angeles||CP3 could steal 1 game (or even 2), but not enough to win||Lakers in 5|
|Portland||X||X||Blazers' overall talent edge too big to overcome||Blazers in 6|
|San Antonio||X||X||Spurs top Hornets once again||Spurs in 6|
|Utah||Push||Despite seedings and home-court, Jazz prevail||Jazz in 6|
(Key: "X" = Advantage; blank = disadvantage)