Scouting Update: Hornets-Nuggets Gm. 4
Denver was turning Game 3 into a rout when the Hornets got inspired play from their bench, climbed back into the game, and held on to get the series to 2-1. Denver showed that it struggles to maintain the intensity and execution necessary to put a team away on the road, and the Hornets now have a chance to tie this series when it looked like they might not even win a game.
• New Orleans' offense is at its best with Chris Paul blowing into the lane and creating for himself and others. As much as he wants to set everyone else up, New Orleans was down 22-6 in the first quarter of Game 3, with their only points coming on three Paul drives to the rim.
• Although it is not his preferred role, he must embrace the scoring responsibilities again in Game 4. The Hornets will go as he goes, and expect him to be blowing into the lane with regularity.
• With Carmelo Anthony playing tight on Stojakovic, Peja is not quick enough to get rid of him on a cut or go backdoor. If they can't free Stojakovic with screening action, New Orleans may just station him in the corner in Game 4 and let him snipe if Anthony cheats to help.
• David West struggled against Kenyon Martin in straight one-on-one post-up situations. The Hornets must run some screening action for West to put Martin in motion, or to force a switch. A simple back screen on the wing and a roll to the elbow will put West in his favorite spot.
• The Hornets came out flat in Game 3, and coach Byron Scott inserted James Posey and Sean Marks early, and they immediately changed the game with their energy and production. Marks had a block and forced a travel on Nene, and a dunk on a lob from Paul. Posey got to the foul line, took a charge and hit two 3s.
• Marks gives energy and hustle, something Tyson Chandler does not, either because of his injury or by conscious decision. The Hornets won't run any plays for Marks, but he just makes plays and brings the crowd to life -- the New Orleans answer to The Birdman. Expect Marks and Posey to play extended roles in Game 4.
• We anticipated in our Game 3 report that the Hornets would play their starters more against the Denver bench. This was successful for them, as they got more favorable matchups -- Anthony Carter guarding Paul, Birdman guarding West, etc. Look for New Orleans to keep its best players on the floor for longer periods of time when the Nuggets go to their second unit.
• The Hornets also made a conscious effort to fast break more often, as they caught Denver too deep on the offensive boards a number of times. Although Paul won't sprint down the floor with the ball, he will use his change of speed and burst ahead or into a hole if he sees an opportunity. With 22 fast-break points in Game 3, that selective running will continue.
• In Game 3, Denver's best offensive success came in a quick dribble attack in transition, or when it reversed the ball or hit a trailer after the initial push up the floor. The Nuggets caught New Orleans in a number of mismatches -- Paul guarding Carmelo Anthony, Stojakovic on Chauncey Billups -- and got open shots from Martin and J.R. Smith in the first 10 to 12 seconds of the shot clock early in the game.
• However, Billups did not have the same aggressiveness as he had in Games 1 and 2, and Denver's failure to continue with the offensive pressure allowed the Hornets to climb back into the game. Expect Billups to keep his foot on the gas in Game 4, as the Nuggets had only six fast-break points in Game 3.
• With Billups not attacking, Denver started mirroring the slow, deliberate pace favored by the Hornets. He virtually took himself out of the attack, which kept him from getting to the foul line and creating for others.
• In the half court, Anthony can blow by Stojakovic at will, but must attack the middle to take full advantage of this matchup. He bails Peja out when he goes baseline and turns back to the middle, taking a tougher shot with help coming at him.
• Look for Denver to give him more catches at the elbow and at the top of the floor in Game 4 to give him more room to work. They also will run some screening action around the foul line to pop him to the wing, hoping to get a mismatch in a switch.
• The biggest defensive decision for Denver in Game 4 is how they are going to guard Paul. Dahntay Jones has done a solid job forcing Paul to one side of the floor, trying as much as possible to keep him going left.
• But this allowed Paul an unimpeded attack at the Denver big men, who can't keep Paul from the rim. He dribbled in and throughout the lane at will in Game 3.
• In ball screen situations, Denver's switching, soft show/half trap on Paul should be scrapped, as it doesn't force his hand, and has the defenders switching too often -- which leaves the big man on Paul and a smaller defender on the screener. The Hornets took advantage of both mismatches in Game 3.
• It was surprising to see Denver go away from the hard traps on Paul, as the Nuggets have been able to force some turnovers out of that scheme in the first three games. If the Nuggets don't have confidence that they can consistently rotate to the shooters, then they are in trouble for Game 4.
• Another downside of all the switching is that it leads to confusion. In the second quarter, Nene and Anthony Carter glaringly failed to communicate on a ball screen switch, which left Paul all alone for a wide-open 3 in the second quarter.
• Another concern for Denver was their wretched transition defense, giving up layups and uncontested shots to Stojakovic, Butler, Paul and West. New Orleans is clearly looking to run more, catching the Nuggets crashing the offensive boards and jogging back.
• Denver must retreat with more urgency in Game 4, finding Paul early and protecting the rim. Giving up 22 fast-break points to one of the slowest-paced teams in the league is inexcusable.
• Rasual Butler is 7-for-9 from the 3-point line in his past two games. With Stojakovic ice cold in Game 3, Butler's continued hot shooting will be key in Game 4.
If Chandler is ineffective or uninspired, Marks could see another extended role.
• Denver shot only 24-for-35 from the foul line in Game 3, with Anthony shooting 4-for-8.
Nene has only 10 points in the past two games. Denver needs his offense in the half court.
• The Nuggets took their foot off the accelerator in Game 3 and allowed the Hornets to get back in this series. Denver must come out running in Game 4, and the Hornets will play with a newfound confidence and sense of urgency as they try to tie the series. Expect a close game, a raucous crowd and some flaring tempers in this one.
Prediction: Hornets win Game 4
Mike Moreau is the director of basketball for the Pro Training Center and The Basketball Academy at the IMG Academies in Bradenton, Fla. He also serves as an NBA analyst for Hoopsworld.
Synergy Sports Technology systems were used in the preparation of this report.
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