The Hornets return home from a tougher-than-it-should've-been Western swing today. Unfortunately, they'll face off against their toughest Western foe in the Utah Jazz.
All indications are that Peja Stojakovic will play again tonight, and probably in a reserve role. James Posey, initially expected back tonight from an elbow issue, will not play, and neither will Tyson Chandler.
The keys to tonight are simple in theory, but difficult in execution. Chief among them is defensive rebounding. Utah ranks 4th in the West on the offensive glass, and with Carlos Boozer and Paul Millsap patrolling the inside, Hilton Armstrong will be faced with his toughest assignment of his recent resurgence. With West's ankle issues, the Hornets figure to be in for a tough night on the glass. Contributions of Rasual Butler, Julian Wright, and even Chris Paul will be necessary.
New Orleans also needs to keep Utah off the foul line. The Jazz have the second highest free throw rate of any team in the league. While they aren't as successful at conducting unimpeded foul-fests on the road, they still draw a ton of whistles. The Hornets struggled severely to keep guys like Jamal Crawford and C.J. Watson in check on Friday, and the Jazz are obviously equipped with far more talented players.
So defensively, both the above keys can be encapsulated by one word: energy. If the Hornets are outhustled tonight, they really stand no chance of stopping the Jazz offense. I really would not mind seeing a Ryan Bowen stint in this game.
On the offensive side of things, the Hornets will have to watch out for the Jazz's active hands. Utah forces more turnovers than any team in the conference. Some may argue that this is also because they get away with more contact than any team in the conference, but the point still stands. If CP goes into the lane without knowing what he's going to do (a recurring theme over the last few weeks), the Jazz will take it. If David West reacts to the double a second late, the Jazz will take it. New Orleans' ball control has slipped from last year's levels, and the Jazz are the ideal team to take advantage of that.
Rounding out Utah's defense, it is worth pointing out that they are a below average defensive rebounding team, they foul a lot, and they have an average field goal defense. The offensive glass will be there for the taking, if guys are willing to step up. Utah's high foul rates should lead to a high-penetration game plan. Every jump shot we settle for is more costly against a team like Utah. As with all New Orleans-Utah matchups, this will be about far more than Chris Paul vs. Deron Williams. Utah has the substantially better supporting cast, but with their inexplicable struggles on the road, we do have a shot. Go Hornets.