A quick look at a couple of strategies that worked for the Hornets in Game 3 that they must replicate on offense and defense to even the series tonight.
When the Hornets Have the Ball
Getting to the Line
This was THE key for the Hornets in Game 3. After posting meager foul shots/field goal rates of 21.6% and 21.8% in Denver, the Hornets just about doubled that at 40.6% on Saturday. The cliche is that driving the ball to the hoop is how to get to the line. This is true, but it isn't the only way to get to the line as the Hornets showed. Another option is to drive write at Denver players, regardless of location on the floor. The Nuggets play a very aggressive style of defense (see D. Jones on C. Paul). Driving at defenders isn't "creating contact" so much as it's showing the refs the contact that's already there. Denver was the second most foul prone team in the conference (26% average) for a reason; they bump players all the time. In the playoffs, you don't get calls by standing around and getting bumped. You get calls by forcing contact, then getting bumped. The overall point is that the bumps will be there; that's the type of team Denver has. The context those bumps come in- whether it's through Paul driving or Paul standing motionless 30 feet from the hoop- is what determines the refs' whistles. Hopefully we see a carry over of the Hornets' approach from Saturday.
The other three points in this post are all things the Hornets executed successfully in Game 3. Turnovers is not. New Orleans has been dreadful with taking care of the ball this series. Their turnover rates of 17.6%, 17.4%, and 16.4% dwarf their terrific 12.5% rate during the regular season. While Denver was a stellar at forcing turnovers during the season, many of the Hornet turnovers this series are just mental errors. Chris Paul has jumped in the air without knowing what to do at least 5 times this series; he did that maybe 5 times all season. David West's passes out of double teams have been either way too lazy or way too risky. The bottom line is this: the Hornets have been giving away an average of 4 possessions per game over their average, and at least two of those are unforced each game. 2 entirely lost possessions is a huge margin, and it's one we can't afford to cede, given the stellar defense of Dahntay Jones and Kenyon Martin. Knock on wood that we can cut down on mental errors for the first time this series.
When the Nuggets Have the Ball
D on Carmelo
At first glimpse, he had a decent game with 25 points. A second look reveals that he shot 10-24. A third look reveals that he shot 10-24 while being single covered by Peja Stojakovic. The reason? Melo guards himself by settling. He's an all-world type player that can drive and dunk on elite defenders; only Wade and LBJ take it to the hole harder. And yet he's settled for the fadeaway 20 footer over Peja for three games now. The Hornets can live with Melo's jump shooting production because it affords them the ability to keep better defenders (Butler, Posey) on other offensive threats. Can Melo destroy us with jump shots? Absolutely, and with the efficiency of any of the league's elite. The difficulty of shots he can knock down is unbelievable. But the Hornets will gladly take a jump-shooting Melo over a dunking Melo. Peja's primary line of defense is baiting offensive players into eschewing driving in favor of jump shooting. Melo may shoot 20/20 in a 50 point Nuggets win tonight, but if those are 20 jump shots, you won't hear one complaint out of me about Peja's defense.
The defensive key that stands out from Game 3 is Billups' 3-10 shooting. I would contend that field goal defense wasn't the best thing the Hornets did to keep CB under wraps though. Rather, it was ball denial after the ball went to someone else. When an entry pass was tossed to a Martin or Nene postup, the Hornets made sure that Billups or other guards couldn't get the ball back. This helped Martin and Nene into a combined 8 turnovers. Chauncey is great with the ball in his hands, but he's also great at sneakily drifting into open spaces without it. The denial of off-the-ball movement is predicated on one thing: energy. Defenders simply have to anticipate and be in motion at all times, considering that the offensive players have the inherent advantage of knowing where they're going. Thus, it is an open question as to whether the Hornets' guards can duplicate this effort on defense, but if they do, it would be a tremendous help for West and Chandler in the paint.