A few things to watch for in Game 4, as the Hornets attempt to even the series prior to their Tuesday’s flight to Denver for Wednesday’s Game 5 at the Pepsi Center:
1) Can the Hornets maintain their level of offensive aggressiveness from Game 3?
An interesting stat from Hornets radio host Joe Block: Over the past two seasons, New Orleans has never attempted 30-plus free throws in consecutive games. The Hornets were 28-for-35 at the foul line on Saturday, after finishing 28th out of NBA 30 teams during the regular season in total free-throw attempts. New Orleans is more reliant on jump-shooting than most NBA clubs, which partly explains its relative lack of trips to the charity stripe. But when the outside shots aren’t falling for the Hornets, they become infinitely more beatable when they’re not trying to drive to the basket. In this series, not settling for perimeter shots has been even more imperative, because Denver’s fast-break attack can be fueled by long rebounds three-point misses that give the Nuggets’ transition game a head start.
2) How will physical play affect Game 4?
Although there has been more drama in a few other 2009 first-round series (especially in Celtics-Bulls, which is shaping up as a classic so far), Nuggets-Hornets has arguably featured more hard fouls and testy moments than any of the eight matchups. There were three flagrant fouls during the second half of Game 3, along with two technical fouls. The atmosphere inside the New Orleans Arena on Saturday was about as intense as you can imagine, with a sellout crowd producing a decibel level that Hornets reserve big man Sean Marks described as “the loudest gym I’ve ever been in.” Players from both teams have said that they understand there has been nothing personal to some of the hard fouls, and that the contact is just part of the territory in the playoffs. So far the Nuggets and Hornets have done a commendable job of staying composed despite a few cases of extraneous jawing and posturing on the floor.
3) How will the Hornets’ frontcourt respond to a subpar Game 3?
Much of the talk from Denver after Game 3 was that it was an encouraging day despite the loss, because the Nuggets played poorly yet still had a chance to win on Carmelo Anthony’s mid-range jumper in the final seconds. From a Hornets standpoint, however, they can point to winning a game despite one of the poorest combined showings of the season from their starting frontcourt of Peja Stojakovic, David West and Tyson Chandler. Stojakovic was 1-for-9 shooting and missed all of its jump shots; West had a miserable time around the basket, missing countless chippies; Chandler’s outing was limited to just 18 minutes due to constant foul trouble. West did end up with decent numbers of 19 points and nine rebounds before fouling out, but New Orleans essentially received no production from its small forward and center. If both Stojakovic and Chandler can make a larger impact tonight, the Hornets’ chances of equaling the series improve drastically.
Other notes from Hornets shootaround this morning in the Arena:
• It’s uncertain how much James Posey will be affected, if at all, by the sprained knee he sustained in Game 3. “He’s going to give it everything he’s got, but I have no idea what to expect tonight,” Byron Scott said. Scott added that if Posey’s minutes need to be reduced, Julian Wright, Devin Brown or Morris Peterson will likely move into the rotation.
• Chris Paul said the knee injury that resulted from his fast-break collision with J.R. Smith in Game 3 will not impact his play tonight. “I’m good to go,” Paul said.
• Tyson Chandler mentioned that after Game 2’s defeat, Posey entered the Hornets’ locker room and told his teammates to “keep fighting” and not think that the series is over. Posey was part of the 2006 NBA champion Miami Heat, who rallied from a 2-0 deficit to beat Dallas. Based on the physicality of Nuggets-Hornets so far, a reporter jokingly asked Chandler if the “keep fighting” suggestion by Posey was meant to be taken literally. A grinning Chandler responded, “No, not at all. I can’t afford (the fines). I’ve got to be able to send my kids to school.”
• Chandler said he heard Nuggets guard Chauncey Billups visited Jazz Fest on Sunday, but did not receive a warm welcome from New Orleanians. Stressing that there is nothing personal to this series, Chandler smiled and said that if he’d been standing near Billups during Jazz Fest, Chandler would’ve “tried to help him out a little bit” in dealing with the crowd.