Thursday, February 28, 2008

Buzzer-beaters and the Shaq Attack (ish)

Washington 95 | New Orleans 92
New Orleans 120 | Phoenix 103
[league standings]

I've been to major sporting events all my life. I've managed to attend multiple games in just about every professional sport (except for hockey... one was all I needed). And in that time, I've never seen a game go to extra innings, a shootout, sudden death, or over time. I'd never seen a walk-off, or any other game-winning play... until Wednesday night.

You spend your whole life as a sports fan waiting for the amazing to happen. This is partially because you want to be able to say, "I saw Secretariat smoke everyone and their mom at the Belmont". You want to be a part of the history you are witnessing. This year's Super Bowl was an excellent example of this phenomenon. And it was particularly special because it was win-win: you were either going to tell your kids that you witnessed a perfect season or that you watched a perfect season completely unravel on the national stage with the finish line in sight. Either way, it was going to be epic.

DeShawn Stevenson is not epic. He isn't even close. In fact, in my 14 team fantasy league, I drafted him in the 15th (and final round). This means that according to the fantasy world (which doesn't really measure defense all that well and is characterized by the name "fantasy"), you would pick 196 players before considering DeShawn Stevenson. But none of that mattered on the court. Stevenson drain 33 points against us, including the nail in the coffin with no time on the clock. And with that, the Caron-less, Gilbert-less Wizards walked out of the New Orleans arena with "W". We had a sizable lead until the fourth quarter, when pissed it away. Was it the 16 turnovers? Was it the 50% from the stripe? Who knows. Had Stevenson been Kobe or LeBron, it might have been less depressing, but with Stevenson I'm left with only bitterness.

Never mind that the Washington game was the "easy" game during a nearly impossible two-week stretch... and marked our third loss in a row... Let's move on.


Hooray, Lee is happy again! With the win, the Hornets moved to 4-0 vs. the Suns this season. In fact, my devoted readers will remember an earlier post when I mentioned that the Hornets went 0-12 vs. Dallas, San Antonio, and Phoenix last season. Well, the mark is now 7-3, with one a piece left for San Antonio and Dallas.

CP3 put up major numbers again: 25 points, 15 assists, 6 rebounds, 3 steals. On the other side of the coin, Nash was his usual self in the passing game (13 assists), but only went 1 for 6 from the field (finishing with 8 points after free-throws). For anyone who's interested, here's how the 2 have matched up for the 4 games(per game):

Paul: 29 points, 11.25 assists, 4.5 rebounds, 4 steals, 1 turnovers
Nash: 18 points, 10.75 assists, 2.5 rebounds, .5 steals, 5 turnovers

I don't have to do any detective work to prove that both guards put up excellent numbers in these games, but Paul clearly dominated statistically. The steals and the turnovers sum that up extremely well (and that's before considering points). Just for fun, let's compare assists/turnover ratio from those four games:

Paul: 11.25
Nash: 4.3

This is not an effort to dethrone Nash as a great point guard. He is one of my favorite players and, despite his age, one of the best point guards in the league, if not the best. Paul may be slowly stealing that title (along with Deron Williams, who we'll discuss later), but Nash is still nothing short of phenomenal. What these numbers actually show is how ineffective the Suns have been at locking down CP3. The fact is Nash cannot guard Paul, so they slide him over to the 2 to cover Peterson (who rarely drives and mostly just spreads the floor). Bell then has the task of stopping Paul. So the Suns have to alter their defensive approach and, so far, they haven't been able to make it work against us. I imagine they run a similar defense against San Antonio, since Nash is mostly useless on Parker, but I'm forgetting what those games looked like (probably for the better after last post-season). And for any naysayers who think that the Suns will eventually adjust and shut down the Hornets, my buddy Nat has the solution: Byron just puts Bonzi in at the 2. His physical play would be too much for Nash to contain and they'd have to keep Bell on him. So who guards Paul? If the answer is Barbosa, think again. He may be quick, but in 27 minutes Barbosa managed to foul out by repeatedly attempting to draw fouls from CP3. You could try to keep Nash on the jump shooters by swinging him to the 3 and letting Hill cover Bonzi and leave on Paul, but now you have Peja with an 10 inch advantage shooting over Nash's head all night.

I would now invite you to take a break from this entry and read Sam's comments as proves me wrong on everything I just wrote.


Let's skip forward for a minute and talk about playoffs. Yes, playoffs. It's early and the West is still wide open, but it isn't too early to start thinking about potential match-ups. It isn't actually important for me at all. It's important for our coaching staff. Here's why: we match up well against 6 of the 10 potential playoff teams, we match-up so-so against 1 team, and I am terrified of the other 3. What does this mean? It means, even if we have a playoff spot locked up, we might still be pushing hard at the end of the season to force a more advantageous seeding for ourselves. Ordinarily this is an easy task; you win more games, you play a lower seed, and a lower seed is easier. Not this year. Golden State is lurking about the 7 seed, and while I think we match-up with them so-so, I don't want to be anywhere near them (until I have to) in the playoffs. I'd much rather drop a few games, rest Paul and West, and end up playing Dallas or Phoenix in round 1. Let's take a look at my comfort level with match-ups in the playoffs on a scale of 1 to 100 with 1 being the most terrified:

1. Lakers
2. Jazz
3. Spurs
7. Warriors
12. Dallas
13. Houston
14. Phoenix
70. Denver
82. Portland
180. Sacramento

I know, I know. Sacramento doesn't have prayer, but they technically are still in the race. It isn't impossible yet (but I'm sure it will be soon).

So while we match-up well against teams like Phoenix and Dallas, I don't even want to consider having to play any of the teams on top of that list in the first round. Our boys (individually and collectively) have no playoff experience outside of Peja, and while that didn't stop the Warriors last season, I think we're going to need to ease our way into this battle the best we can. The problem is that the seeding changes almost every day because the West is so close. Whew, I'm getting antsy just writing this...

None of this even takes into account that the Yao-less Rockets ascend to Tiki-theory-like status and hone a version of small ball that devastates everyone and their mothers. Think about it. Carl Landry and Luis Scola in the post, and Battier, McGrady, and Alston to run fast breaks and spread the floor. It's preposterous and highly unlikely, but it could totally happen. Especially now that Yao and his "Even though it' a fast-break, I'll just wait for you guys when you get back on defense appoach".


So, what happens next, you say? We avoid getting our tails handed to us on national television by none other than the Utah Jazz. D.Will and CP3 are going to go head-to-head in front of the whole country... nay... the WORLD. Seriously, everyone should tune in... it's going to be a hell of a game. For what it's worth, Chris is destroying Deron in terms of statistics; however, in head-to-head match-ups, the Jazz own the Hornets at 7-2 with these two guys at the helm[s]. I sincerely believe tomorrow will make or break Paul's run at the MVP title...

Oh Lord, do not forsake us now...

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