Hornets-Nuggets, Game 5
In one of the most dominating performances in playoff history, Denver mauled the Hornets in New Orleans to take a commanding 3-1 lead in the series. The Nuggets felt they let Game 3 get away, so they took it out on the Hornets in Game 4 and will look to put them away in Game 5.
• After the humiliating and embarrassing experience of Game 4, everyone on the outside is questioning the Hornets' heart, effort and toughness. Rest assured, Hornets coach Byron Scott is not. He must help his players eliminate any lingering emotional trauma by focusing on the technical aspects of the game plan on both ends of the floor. He will focus only on positive plays and adjustments. Scott will not talk of what the team failed to do in Game 4, only of what it must do in Game 5.
• Bouncing back from Game 4 will start with the defense, which has been overrun by the Nuggets' offensive arsenal. New Orleans hasn't been guarding anybody because it has been trying to guard everybody. For Game 5, the Hornets must simplify their defensive plan.
• The Hornets need to decide whom they will double-team and whom they will guard straight up. They are getting killed by Chauncey Billups and Carmelo Anthony, so those two must be doubled early in Game 5 (Billups as he crosses halfcourt and Anthony on the catch). The Hornets must deny them return passes and force the ball out of their hands early so they can't get it back.
• New Orleans' next adjustment should be to play Nene and Kenyon Martin straight up. Nene will go one-on-one in the post, but this will eliminate Martin's flashing for easy baskets. It also will keep the slow-footed Peja Stojakovic out of rotation assignments. The Hornets also must entice Martin to shoot jump shots because it won't hurt them too much if he makes them.
• Expect the Hornets to double-team off Dahntay Jones in Game 5. Jones is a capable scorer, but that is not his role on this team. By taking him out of his "fifth option" role, New Orleans must force him to try to carry more of the load, acting more like a second or third option. Even if he scores, he would take Denver out of its natural rhythm.
• The Hornets just cannot allow Billups or Anthony to beat them in Game 5. Expect them to take their chances with everyone else. New Orleans also has been gashed by Denver's bench, as Linas Kleiza, Smith and Chris Andersen have averaged more than 29 points per game combined off the bench. The Hornets must play their starters against this group, to play their best players for most of the game.
• On offense, Paul has to attack early and often, acting more as a scorer and less as a facilitator. He has gotten David West and Stojakovic their looks, but both have shot less than 38 percent from the floor in the series.
Paul likes to try to get them going, then go on the attack. But in Game 5, Paul must be the scorer first and attack the Nuggets' pressure with more pressure of his own. If Jones or Billups wants to pick him up in the backcourt, Paul must blow by and force the help defenders to guard him at full speed.
• Although a faster pace favors the Nuggets, New Orleans cannot play its walk-it-up style in Game 5. Maybe it can keep the game closer that way, but it can't win. If the Hornets want to win, they have to turn Paul loose.
• Look for more motion and fewer sets and for the Hornets to just come out and ball.
• The Nuggets are averaging 108 points on 49 percent shooting and feel they have too many offensive weapons for the Hornets. Don't expect them to change their formula, which has allowed them to score 25 more points per game than New Orleans in the first four games of the series.
• The Nuggets' offense is nearly unstoppable when Billups is attacking. He did that in Games 1, 2 and 4. When he eased up in Game 3, the Nuggets lost. Don't expect anything less than an attacking, aggressive Billups in Game 5.
• Anthony knows he can score at will against Stojakovic, so look for him to continue going right at him in Game 5 with quick drives to the middle and wing jump shots off his jabs.
• Denver will try to keep the pace fast and furious and will feed Nene when it settles in the halfcourt, cutting and slashing around him with Martin and Jones.
• Smith and Kleiza will continue firing away from 3 when they enter the game, as they are a combined 16-for-39 (41 percent) from 3 for the series. The Birdman will continue to fly to the basket at both ends.
• Denver's stifling defense is really the key to this series, as it has strangled Paul, suffocated West and completely shut down the Hornets' offensive attack. The Nuggets are stopping their men in individual matchups, forcing turnovers, blocking shots and dominating the boards. The Hornets are withering under the pressure.
• Expect Jones to continue his backcourt hounding of Paul. Jones is quick enough and physical enough to be almost the perfect defensive weapon against CP3. He relishes the challenge and will try to get inside Paul's head. He's already in it now. Paul is averaging more than five turnovers per game and is shooting 43 percent in the series.
• Martin has been spectacular in his one-on-one defense of West, holding him to 37 percent shooting. The Nuggets don't have to help or double up on West, which helps them on cutters and spot-up shooters and helps them control the defensive glass.
• Expect no changes in Denver's defensive strategy, but count on a swarming, aggressive attack fueled by a raucous home crowd.
• Stojakovic was 0-for-5 in 3-point attempts in Game 4. He must make 3s early and often in Game 5.
• The Nuggets' poor free-throw shooting (24-for-35) got them beat in Game 3, and they came back with 25-for-30 from the line in Game 4. They are shooting 80 percent for the series.
Denver's awesome display of dominance in Game 4 will not play a role in Game 5. The Nuggets must replicate their effort, energy and efficiency, and they expect the home crowd to help them find another level of intensity. The Hornets can't afford a bad start and rely on Paul to come out on fire, trying to will his team to victory. Expect a valiant effort, but it won't be enough.
Prediction: Nuggets win Game 5
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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