New York (10-9, 7-4 away) heads to New Orleans (13-5, 8-1 home). A tough game to be sure, but I’m not ready to call this a lock for the Hornets. After an 11-1 start the Hornets are 3-4 since the trade with Raptors that sent Peja Stojakovic to the Raptors in exchange for Jarrett Jack and David Andersen.
The Hornets remind me of the Mike Fratello coached Cavaliers teams of the early 90s. Like those Cavaliers teams, the Hornets combine slow pace (90.5, 27th) with a strong defense (EFF 100.9, 3rd eFG% 47.2, 4th) and feature a strong point guard and solid players on the front line. By slowing the pace, playing strong defense, and doing well on the defensive glass, the Hornets limit scoring opportunities for the opposition. This style of play is very effective against teams that have inefficient offenses. However, efficient offensive teams can overcome this. Four of the Hornets five losses have come against teams with offensive efficiency ratings in the top 12 of the NBA (Oklahoma City, San Antonio, Utah, and Dallas). This news bodes well for the Knicks who are currently 7th in the NBA in offensive efficiency (109.7)
What to watch for 1: New Orleans perimeter scoring.
Since the trade with Toronto, the Hornets have had trouble getting efficient scoring from the supporting back court players. Chris Paul (eFG% 54) has been solid but Jarret Jack–eFG% of 27.8 in 6 games–has been very bad. Trevor Ariza has been bad all season (eFG% 45.7). John Hollinger even took notice. Belinelli (eFG% 55.3) has had several bad shooting nights since the trade as well. Stopping Paul is a very difficult task, but it seems that Jack, Ariza, Willie Green (49.3), and Marcus Thornton (46.9) are quite stoppable. The Knicks defensive effort should focus on pressuring Paul and forcing him to look to the wings to create offense.
What to watch for 2: Pace.
The Hornets are a very strong defensive team and very good on the defensive glass. The Knicks are not strong on the offense glass so it is doubtful the team will get many second chance shots particularly if Turiaf is out and Randolph rides the pine. This means the Knicks will need to push the pace and create offense in transition before the Hornets are able to get set. In the half court, the Knicks need to get the best shot they can, not necessarily the first shot.
What to watch for 3: Turnovers.
The Hornets are in the top 10 of the NBA in forcing turnovers. The Knicks are in the bottom third of the NBA in give aways (though they have been better of late). The Knicks have to make sure they take care of the ball. The Hornets will slow the pace and limit the chances for scoring, so the Knicks need to be very efficient and make sure to keep the turnovers down.
What to watch for 4: Front court match ups.
Amar’e Stoudamire has been a beast on offense as of late, but Okafor and West present a formidable defensive front. West’s talent on offense will present a challenge for either Stoudemire or Chandler. If Turiaf’s sore knee keeps him out, then I’d really like to see D’Antoni give Anthony Randolph some quality playing time. Randolph’s rebounding and defense can be very helpful against West (20.6/36 52.8 eFG%).