Round 1 Riot: Nuggets (2) vs. Hornets (7)
Expectations were sky high for the Hornets the season after crashing the conference gates, but injuries and a still-weak bench sunk N.O.'s hopes for true Best of the West contention. Denver meanwhile, picked by many to watch the postseason from the couch, pulled off a coup by landing Chauncey Billups and the No. 2 seed ... a spot where New Orleans expected to land. Can Denver confirm its regular season, or will the Hornets renew their status as elite?
Reason to Watch
There are too many reasons to watch, but No. 1 with a bold-faced colon (:) has to be Chris Paul in the playoffs. CP3 obliterated Dallas and San Antonio last spring; though the Spurs triumphed, all you could talk about the next week was Paul's savvy, his control of the entire court, and (of course) his talent. Paul has been a joy to behold all season -- in the playoffs, the syrup is sweeter.
How Denver Can Win
The Hornets have defended Carmelo Anthony well in the past. But the beautiful thing about the new Nuggets is that it's not up to 'Melo! Paul's defensive strength is in creating turnovers; Billups is not going to be pickpocketed too frequently by anyone. Nene and Tyson Chandler match athleticism with athleticism, brawn with brawn. But Nene is at full strength, while Chandler is hardly in game shape. With J.R. Smith and Linas Kleiza off the bench, there won't be a load of pressure on 'Melo to score every time down. That will ease off his attempts (as it has all season) and make Anthony and the Nuggets more efficient than in postseasons passed.
How New Orleans Can Win
I hate to repeat myself, but it's up to Paul for the Hornets to pull it out. And hey, Paul probably could pull this out with scoring help from David West and a cold streak for one of Denver's trio of stars. Great players can elevate the team; Paul will play almost the entire series -- almost every minute. If he can be a measure better than he's been this season -- which has been incredibly good -- the Hornets can do it. But it's up to him, not Peja Stojakovic or Rasual Butler. It's got to be Paul.
Video Clip to Get You Pumped
Can't wait to see what stunts the Hornets come up with the season!
Stud of the Series
Nene. Again, Chandler's not quite fit. Nene has been abusing the league's best centers and forwards this season -- what will he do against a man on one leg? Further, some creative defense by a coach (George Karl) known for it could have Nene checking red hot shooter West; Nene has excellent hands on defense and good footwork, and he stands a much more reasonable chance of shutting off West than the Hornets stand of shutting off Nene.
Chandler and Hilton Armstrong. The lack of depth at center for the Hornets had been a running joke until Chandler's ongoing injuries made the situation far from funny. Against such a potent Denver frontcourt (all the way past Nene and Kenyon Martin to Chris Andersen), the Hornets will be at a distinct disadvantage every second Chandler has to sit. Even when he's on the court, it's hard to imagine Denver having trouble in the lane.
Denver: Jones, Moore, Pollakoff, Steinmetz, Watson, Ziller.
New Orleans: Brinson.
Will Brinson's in a lonely place, though I think this Denver bias is not indicative of New Orleans' real chances. This should be a tight series; Paul and West won't let their season die with a whimper. But in my opinion, the Denver onslaught is just too violent for the Hornets to handle.