Nicknames in their proper place (although many New Orleanians might want a talk with the Utah Jazz) the Charlotte Hornets visit New Orleans for the first time tonight. The Hornets have had a rough go to start the season, especially for any Hornet fans with heart troubles. Each of their first three games have come down to the final moments.
First was the electric opening night in Charlotte. The Hornets snoozed through the first two quarters and found themselves down by as much as 24 points. While marquee free agent acquisition Lance Stephenson struggled mightily (3-12 FGs) Charlotte got efficient production from Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (17 points on eight shots) and Marvin Williams (19 points on 12 shots). Ultimately the Hornets got stops and Kemba Walker made shots to pull the win out in overtime.
Memphis came to town and in a deplorable display of basketball for all involved ground out a 71-69 victory. No, that is not a misprint. On Sunday night Charlotte ended a Home-Road back-to-back in agonizing fashion. With a 93-90 lead the Hornets came up empty in the final two and a half minutes; allowing the Knicks (and former Pelican Jason Smith) to eek out a 96-93 victory. More worrying was the nasty fall MKG took in the first half. He was taken for an MRI and is listed as day-to-day.
New Orleans went 1-1 against Charlotte last season with each team winning on their home floor. Anthony Davis beat the tar out of the then-Bobcats in November posting an incredible 25 points, 8 rebounds, 4 assists, 6 blocks, and 6 steals stat line. David Starcer gushed in the recap, "Anthony Davis Superstar is here folks." For the Bobcats, there was one player not there though. Al Jefferson missed the game due to injury.
Back in Charlotte Jefferson was available, and found a way to take the game over. Despite a terribly inefficient night (33 points on 30 shots with 4 turnovers) the Pelicans could not find a way to take advantage. The last minute of this game took an eternity thanks the Charlotte refusing to make foul shots. Despite a bevy of injuries (Jrue Holiday, Ryan Anderson, and Jason Smith were all out) the Pelicans took a "playoff" team down to the wire on their home floor. Such was the environment of the (L)Eastern Conference last season.
Monty's New Toy
This off-season one of Monty's favorite drums to pound on was how many points the Pelicans gave up to Al Jefferson and Nene during an eight game losing streak after the All-Star Break.
"When we played at Charlotte (on Feb. 21), we couldn’t stop Al Jefferson in the low post. And the game at Washington (on Feb. 22), Nene went for 30 points," Williams said. "You can’t have that and expect to win." Monty Williams in The Advocate
Never mind that Jefferson and Nene required an inordinate amount of possessions (Jefferson had 33 points on 37 possessions, Nene had 30 points on 26). Monty saw big numbers, ignored the efficiency (or the lack of execution, or his decision to guard John Wall with Brian Roberts), and had to have a solution.
Enter Omer Asik.
Scott Rafferty broke down Charlotte's early season struggles of Hardwood Paroxysm. The Hornets start just one shooter in Marvin Williams. Both Kemba Walker and Lance Stephenson would prefer to attack the basket. This failure to space the floor has gummed up Charlotte's attack and made it easier for opponents to double Al Jefferson on the block. Pelican fans are familiar with this issue.
Hello Al-Farouq Aminu and Greg Stiemsma. How have you been?
Thanks to Omer Asik, it is unlikely Monty Williams will need to double Jefferson much. Still, expect Pelican wings to dig at the ball when the opportunity presents itself. Check out this piece by Drew Garrison from last off season on Asik's defensive prowess. Better yet, watch Garrison's video of Asik's defense. At the 0:45 mark and again at the 1:48 mark Asik stops Jefferson alone on three separate possessions.
At no point do the Rockets even consider helping Asik in this task. Jefferson and Asik played four games against one another as starting centers in 2012-13. Jefferson managed 62 points on nearly 74 possessions. More importantly Asik defended without fouling. Over the course of four contests Asik committed a total of seven fouls and Jefferson attempted just eight free throws on 64 field goal attempts.
Regardless of early success the Pelicans must commit to defending Al Jefferson with Omer Asik flying solo. This is why Monty Williams wanted an elite big man. If Jefferson can somehow pull a rabbit out of his hat and have an efficient night against one of the league's best defenders tip your cap and move on.
Do not panic, double team, or dig too aggressively. Thus allowing the rest of the Hornets to get easy offense. If any Charlotte player is going to win this game, the Pelicans best choice is to force that player to be Big Al.
The game tips off at 7:00 pm in the Smoothie King Center. Our Game Thread will post at 6:00 pm. Let us hear your keys to the game in the comments.