The sad part about this loss is you can't solely rely on the cookie cutter "if only we had Chandler..." explanation. It is true that the Tyson injury hurt us, yet the bottom line is we came in with an abysmal game plan, and we got what we deserved. The Hornets didn't attack the rim against Phoenix. They lost. The Hornets didn't attack the rim against Dallas. They lost. It's as simple as that. From the very beginning, our offensive strategy was very clear: set (weak) screens and shoot 18 footers.
It's tough to imagine a less creative gameplan for an offense that has Chris Paul and David West at its disposal. But leave that aside for a moment.
I noticed something today that I'm stunned I hadn't noticed before. The gameplan hasn't changed one, single, tiny iota since Tyson Chandler left the lineup. We run the exact same plays with guys "pretending" to be Chandler. Hilton tries and fails miserably to set the same screens, Melvin Ely tries and fails miserably to roll hard to the hoop. I can't even begin to describe how stupid this is. I mean, I've been seeing it happen for weeks; it just never fully registered in my brain. Byron Scott has not even attempted to alter his game strategy for Tyson's loss. He's refused to come up with new plays, even though it's painfully obvious that Ely and Armstrong are no Chandler.
In fact, we even play defense the same way! Instead of Chandler waiting to block a shot though, it's Hilton providing the defender with a three point play. With Chandler, the Hornets' defensive strategy was to funnel penetration towards the big. Without Chandler, the Hornets' defensive strategy should be to meet penetration earlier in the drive using the forwards. It's extroardinarily basic basketball. Yet nothing has changed. Nobody is arguing that Byron has a ton of great talent that he's squandering away. Armstrong and Co. are unequivocally bad at basketball. The fact that Byron Scott can and does do nothing- NOTHING!- to mitigate the damage is depressing.
In some good news, it was great to see Tyson Chandler pumped up on the bench. His target return date is Monday vs. the Rockets. If Tyson can return at a 80%-90% level, I still like this team's chances. As poor as Byron's coaching has been, Tyson's defense covers up a lot of mistakes on the offensive and defensive side of the ball. He makes Chris Paul a much better player on both sides of the floor. He improves David West's game by letting him concentrate on scoring instead of rebounding. In short, he makes this team a lot better. Good enough to beat the Lakers? Maybe. Good enough to beat any other team in the conference? I sure think so.
Butler has been in a serious slump as of late. I'm not sure what we can attribute it to. Anecdotally, it seems his "pump fake, then step in" move has grown more and more prevalent. Perhaps that is something the coaching staff can address, or perhaps it's purely an anecdotal phenomenon that has no real relevance. Either way, his offense will be crucial, alongside Peja's, given the disappearance of Mo Pete.
- Peja's playing good ball. I didn't expect him to return to form this quickly, but I'll take it. He made a couple nifty moves off the dribble on Antoine Wright. Though his final line doesn't look too impressive, it would seem that he's recovered well from his back issue.
- Statistically, we lost this game due to horrific defensive rebounding (with Dallas retaining nearly 1 out of every 2 missed shots). From a non-statistical perspective, this could be called heart, energy, desire, etc. Even if you set aside the talent levels for a moment, they outhustled us pretty easily. Their scrubs out-scrubbed our scrubs.
- I like how J.J. Barea did this little glare thing after every move he made. Dude, you're playing against Hilton Armstrong and Sean Marks. You'd better be making those shots. This is especially ironic, given the monster block Marks laid on him in the 4th.
- Dirk is a Beast.
- No comment on Posey.
- I liked what I saw from Melvin Ely. I still think he has a very underrated post game, he has an amazing pump fake, and he's a stout defender. Sure, he has many serious flaws to his game, but is he really that much worse than Hilton? Absolutely not. Ely has been a plus contributor in his career before, and there's no reason he can't be again, given the right role. He's about as good a rebounder as Armstrong (ie, pathetic), which is why I like Marks over him, but he's a decent piece given our current situation.
- Chris Paul played his heart out, scoring, rebounding, passing, defending, coaching, instructing, yelling, referee baiting, sweating, diving... at one point he weaved through five defenders on a single play. At another point, he literally jumped over the head of Brandon Bass and took a rebound out of his hands, while getting smacked by Barea. Chris Paul gets a big fat 0 in the W column for his efforts. And people still want to judge a player by how many wins he gets? By how many championships he wins? Madness.
Maybe this team turns it around with Tyson returning for the playoffs. It really isn't that crazy an idea; Tyson has an amazing impact on defense and a considerable one on offense. This team could very well make a deep run with him patrolling the middle. One thing is for sure though. The Hornets will go as far as Chris Paul and David West and Tyson Chandler take them. Byron Scott is simply coming along for the ride.