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Raptors 96, Hornets 90: The Slump Continues

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I think I've proclaimed the Hornets' arrival at "rock bottom" four or five different times this season. Well, let's add to that list once more. New Orleans played yet another putrid game on the offensive side of the ball on its way to its latest embarrassing loss. 

The individual defensive efforts of certain players (more on this next, but I presume you already know who I refer to) are certainly not beyond reproach, but New Orleans put together an average defensive game overall. It certainly wasn't "good"- Toronto averages 105 points per 100 possessions on the year and we ceded 109- but it wasn't the ultimate cause of our downfall either. No, that would be the offense. The Raptors came in as the second worst defensive side in all the land, giving up a ridiculous 112 points per 100 possessions on average. Tonight, the Hornets barely scraped together 90 points on 89 possessions (101 pts/100 poss). For lack of a better word, that's pathetic. It's worse than the worst offense in the league (Milwaukee) manages on a nightly basis.

Let's be clear- many Hornets struggled tonight. Marco Belinelli got hot late, but he scored an inefficient 13 points on 14 shots. David West missed 10 of his 17 looks. Emeka Okafor missed all five of his shots, and Willie Green and Trevor Ariza put in a combined 5 for 16 effort themselves. So let's remember that Chris Paul's horrible, horrible game stands against the backdrop of that surrounding mediocrity. At the same time though, let's also remember that Chris Paul is and should be held to a higher standard. He's not Willie Green, he's not Trevor Ariza, he's not even David West.

In that sense, Paul hurt us more tonight than any other Hornet player. He missed 7 of his 10 shots, but equally as important were the countless possessions he took completely off, opting to stand around at the three point line without moving. Jose Calderon put up one of the best lines of any point guard in the league this season- 22 points 16 assists, 7 of 10 shooting, 7 rebounds, and 2 turnovers. Those used to be the numbers we expected from Paul. These days, we're routinely settling for half of that. 

And that brings us to another important point- if Chris Paul is going to continue to take entire games off (whether that's a function of his knee, etc, we do not know), Monty Williams has to design better offensive plays. New Orleans went long stretches tonight where they simply tossed the ball down to a big, watched Toronto clog the paint on him, and then watched the big chuck a wild shot that would often be rejected. 

The Hornets' current offense calls for extremely slow, methodical play set up. The team will routinely get into the meat of its play with just 10 seconds left on the shot clock. That works when Chris Paul probes the lane and quickly finds opening. It leads to utter offensive impotence when they play calls for a simplistic dump off to a big with the shot clock starting to expire. 

As far as Paul himself? We don't exactly know what's going on. Matt Moore wrote last week for CBS that Paul's play may be connected with his desire for longevity. Personally, this is the explanation I subscribe to most. CP doesn't seem to have much trouble moving; rather, it feels like he chooses not to explode as often as we're used to. 

Take the jump for further (sobering) notes.

- The Hornets did a great job on the defensive glass tonight without playing Aaron Gray. The team collected 83% of Toronto's misses. Unfortunately, the Raptors got to and scored from the paint at will.

- Jarrett Jack essentially kept this game from being a blowout. His 17 points on 9 shots contrasted starkly with Chris Paul's 7 on 10.

- In terms of the four factors of NBA play, New Orleans and Toronto were very even in the turnover battle, the free throw battle, as well as on the glass. It was the Raptors' superior shooting night (fueled largely by the fact that they took much better shots than the Hornets) that saw them through.

New Orleans travels to New York tonight; needless to say, the Knicks and Chris Paul have been linked for almost a full year now. Will that spark him to a strong night? Who knows. All I will say is if playing in New York is what it takes for Chris Paul to have even an average night these days, something is very, very wrong.