Lakers – Hornets Preview

PreviewHeading into Tuesday evening’s showdown with the New Orleans Hornets, we got in touch with Hornets.com’s Jim Eichenhofer, who follows every dribble, jumper and rebound for Chris Paul and Co. Eichenhofer took some time to fill us in on the Hornets’ recent hot streak, CP3’s hyper-competitiveness and more:

MT: As the Hornets have won 8-of-10 and four in a row, the Lakers recently lost back-to-back games for the first time this season – albeit at the buzzer – and lost their backup point guard. Is New Orleans licking their chops for revenge from the 93-86 early-season win in N.O.?
Eichenhofer: I’m sure the Hornets are motivated by several factors entering this game, with one of them being the loss you mentioned. New Orleans has won six straight at home and is 7-1 here since that night. The fact that the Lakers are now within range in the West standings is another reason why this feels like an important game.

But I don’t think anyone should be “licking their chops” to play the Lakers, despite their recent losses. A two-game losing streak might be considered a mini-crisis in L.A., but the Lakers are still 21-5, still have the best record in the West and still have Kobe Bryant. I think Hornets fans and players have the utmost respect for Kobe for several reasons: He’s consistently had big games against this team, including a 50-point outing in NOLA two seasons ago; he was obviously the reason Chris Paul did not win the MVP award last season; and he has a knack for draining huge baskets, including that killer three-pointer he made in the Nov. 12 matchup with about a minute remaining.

MT: Why don’t people realize how chippy and feisty Chris Paul is? Does being one of the darlings of the NBA help him get away with some sneakiness?
Eichenhofer: I think the best way to answer this is to quote Chris, who says, “I am two totally different people. I’m one person on the court, and (another person) off the court. On the court, I am very competitive in everything I do. You can’t be buddy-buddy or friends with the (opposing team) on the court… After the buzzer sounds and they say that we won, then I will smile. But for those 48 minutes… no.”

Sometimes people think that because Chris has such a sterling reputation off the court, that means he should act that way on the floor as well. That doesn’t make sense. When he’s playing the game, he is probably as competitive as anyone in the NBA.

Is he chippy and feisty? Of course. But you WANT your best player to set the example of being deathly serious about winning every night during the long 82-game schedule, don’t you? As Byron Scott says about Chris, “He’s got a little nastiness in him, kind of like what Isiah Thomas had when he played.”

Is this a bad thing? No way. This is just old-school basketball. Personally, I love it. Being chippy is not a bad thing. Playing soft is a bad thing.

MT: Fairly stated. Moving on, how much better a team are the Hornets with the addition of Antonio Daniels, who came over from Washington in a trade two weeks ago?
Eichenhofer: He hasn’t played a ton of minutes yet, but you can already see a better flow to the second-unit’s offense with Daniels running it. It’s going to make New Orleans better short-term because now they have a legitimate backup point guard with 12 years of NBA experience, including a championship ring in San Antonio. Over the course of the season, it’s going to pay off because Paul should be able to play fewer minutes and not have so many 40-plus-minute nights. Prior to the Daniels trade, the reserves were often failing to preserve leads. Now Byron Scott will be able to take Paul out of games to rest, without worrying that it’s going to potentially cost the Hornets a victory.

MT: Has James Posey earned his money this season? We’ve certainly seen him knock down some big shots…
Eichenhofer: He’s earned it and then some. As you note, he’s already made a handful of clutch three-pointers in the final minutes of close games. He’s given the second unit a proven player who can be relied on to provide the same contributions virtually every night. Scott has said since Day 1 that Posey is a better offensive player than most realize. Everyone knew that he would improve the defense and provide leadership, which he has, but his offense has been valuable as well. He’s in the midst of a very productive stretch, averaging 15.5 points over the last four games, including canning six three-pointers at Toronto.

MT: What’s the worst Western Conference matchup for the Hornets in a seven game series?
Eichenhofer: Based on past results, probably Utah. The Jazz have displayed a knack for putting the clamps on the Hornets’ offense, slowing them to a crawl and preventing them from getting any easy baskets. New Orleans scored only 71 and 66 points in two of its three defeats to Utah last season, the Hornets’ two worst offensive games. The Jazz are a rarity in that they have a point guard (Deron Williams) who plays well against Chris Paul. Utah’s frontcourt depth also makes the Jazz a difficult matchup.

MT: Who’s the best interview on the Hornets?
Eichenhofer: This team is filled with players who are funny and entertaining to interview, which is the main reason why we decided to start four new player blogs this season (Melvin Ely, James Posey, Ryan Bowen, Julian Wright each have one) that appear on Hornets.com or in our game program. If I had to pick the best interviewees, I’d probably go with Ely and Tyson Chandler.

By now most NBA fans are familiar with Tyson’s blog on NBA.com. I’m sure one of the reasons NBA.com brought him back for a second season of blogging is that he always has interesting things to say on many subjects. Tyson is extremely accommodating toward the media and fans, which is part of why he’s become very popular in New Orleans. Melvin may actually be a more talented story-teller than Tyson. I’m not sure where to begin in explaining Melvin’s personality and stories; you’re probably better off just checking out his blog.

MT: What’s something that would surprise us about the team?
Eichenhofer: With a big assist from the players, who are a very likeable group of guys, the Hornets are committed to being a fan-friendly organization. We host a pregame party before every home game, called Buzz Fest, that features live music, free interactive games for kids and $1 beers. We also publish two full-page articles on season-ticket holders in all 41 game programs, which are distributed to all fans for free. The Hornets are also big believers in some of the new social-networking platforms, hosting our own social network on Hornets.com, as well as updating two Facebook pages (if you have a Facebook account, visit the page run by enthusiastic team supporter “Hornet Henry.” The page now has over 1,500 friends).

MT: Finally, your outlook on Tuesday’s game…
Eichenhofer: The Hornets have been tough to beat at home since the middle of last season, meaning it would be a rare and impressive feat if the Lakers could beat them twice in New Orleans over a span of about six weeks. I guess this game comes down to whether the recent trends for both teams continue: the Lakers charged out of the gate but have not played well lately, while the Hornets were labeled a “disappointment” early on, but are now rolling. I don’t like to make predictions, but I’m probably not going out on a limb to expect that New Orleans will get off to a better start this time. The Hornets fell behind 51-30 by intermission Nov. 12 against the Lakers, probably their worst half in the Hive this season.