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News » There's no ignoring the Hornets' buzz now

There's no ignoring the Hornets' buzz now

There's no ignoring the Hornets' buzz now
OK, now can we believe in the New Orleans Hornets?

In case you still doubt the second seed in the Western Conference is a serious contender for the NBA title, consider they are 7-1 in the playoffs so far. They left the Dallas Mavericks in the dust in five games and not only are they up 2-0 on the defending champion San Antonio Spurs, but the victories were by 19 and 18 points to boot.

2008 NBA playoffs

Wednesday's game

  • Magic punish Pistons in Game 3
  • Kobe, Lakers take 2-0 lead on Jazz


  • Rosen: Orlando puts on Magic show
  • O'Connor: Cleveland's crucial question
  • Kahn: Can't ignore the buzz now
  • Goodman: LeBron at his worst
  • Rosen: How Kobe finally won the MVP
  • Hill: Who's the best big for Kobe?
  • Rosen: Hornets making the right moves
  • Western Conference playoff central
  • Eastern Conference playoff central


  • Conference semifinal action
  • Best shots from the first round


  • Billups to the bench?
  • Too much Magic in Game 3

Everybody knows about what a great job Byron Scott has done with this team, earning him Coach of the Year honors and allowing him to dismiss the dissenters in New Jersey who, for some reason, didn't think two consecutive Eastern Conference championships were good enough. Instead, the Nets listened to passive-aggressive point guard Jason Kidd and replaced him with Lawrence Frank. Now look at them.

But let's get back to the Hornets, starring Chris Paul and David West.

Don't you wonder who put all of this together for owner George Shinn?

Most general managers are well known, particularly on the elite teams. You can stop scratching your head now. His name is Jeff Bower, who has had two stints as the team's GM and has been the primary architect of this group.

It all starts with the 23-year-old Paul, who is turning every point guard he sees in the playoffs upside down and inside out with such dazzling play it reminds everyone of Isiah Thomas (before he stopped playing to become the grim reaper of basketball). Everyone thought enough of Paul that he finished second to Kobe Bryant in the MVP balloting and it's easy to see why. He's playing even better in the postseason and his teammates have followed in kind.

Now that's not to say West, 27, isn't a deserving All-Star, regardless of whether he's playing with Paul or anybody else. The 6-9, 240-pound forward is a gifted player in so many ways that it is difficult to fathom how the Hornets were able to get him with the 18th overall pick in the 2003 NBA Draft after an All-American career at Xavier. Sure, it was the draft, with LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh et al ... but just consider a handful of the players taken in front of West: Zarko Cabarkapa, Troy Bell, Reece Gaines, Marcus Banks and Michael Sweetney. Yikes. And that's not even counting Darko Milicic.

Now, Paul and West run the best pick-and-roll around. While everyone in Utah marvels at how Deron Williams and Carlos Boozer have grabbed the mantle from John Stockton and Karl Malone in the screen-and-roll Hall of Fame, Paul and West do it better. Williams and Boozer are stronger, but Paul and West are more athletic and versatile with the ball. In the playoffs, Paul is averaging 24.3 points and 12.1 assists, while West is putting up 21.8 points, 8.0 rebounds, 3.4 assists and 1.29 blocks. Just for good measure, let's add that West has made 32-of-34 free throws as well — that adds up to a .941 clip. The stats of the Jazz duo are good, but not as good.

And they're just the start of why the Hornets have been so tough. West's free throw percentage isn't even the best among the starters.

That honor goes to Peja Stojakovic. The former Sacramento Kings All-Star is experiencing a renaissance here in the playoffs after seeing his star fade dramatically the past three seasons with his body breaking down and his scoring following suit. The 30-year-old forward is averaging 18.0 points and 5.4 rebounds during these eight games. Most importantly, his dead-eye shooting is back. Not only is he shooting an impressive .477 from the field, but he's ripping the nets from 3-point range — 24-of-39, a glittering .651. As for those free throws, well, he has missed one. Stojakovic has made 18-of-19, at worst hitting the rim a couple of times before dropping through. Every fast break they run, Stojakovic is either trailing or spotting up like a teal neon sign.

The thing is, Bower didn't even have to trade a player for Stojakovic. They just gave up a trade exception to the Pacers. The real steal was center Tyson Chandler, who came from the Bulls for P.J. Brown and J.R. Smith. Brown was just an aging piece of insurance and the Bulls released Smith before he ever played a minute. Meanwhile, the 7-1 Chandler averaged a double-double this season for the first time (11.8 points and 11.7 rebounds), led the NBA in offensive boards and blocked 1.72 shots a game. For the playoffs, his scoring is down to 7.3, but he's still averaging 11.7 rebounds and 1.71 blocks. Remember, the guy is only 25 and still maturing.

With varying degrees of contribution, Morris Peterson, Bonzi Wells, and Jannero Pargo are clearly significant others in the run-and-gun game. Julian Wright, their No. 1 pick this season from Kansas, is a raw, but marvelously gifted 20-year-old, whose athletic 6-8, 225-pound frame will be fine-tuned and more consistent in the years to come. Melvin Ely and Hilton Armstrong are limited big men to help Chandler and West, but in the shortened rotations of the playoffs, they are just needed to play aggressive enough and smart enough to give the starters blows from time to time.

It's still too early to say they'll romp over the Spurs, even if the champs looked as if they were playing in cement. We still don't know if the Hornets have the fiber to win it all. But Scott certainly knows what it takes to get there with his assortment of three championship rings as a player for the Lakers and his two Eastern Conference championships as the Nets coach. Plus Paul and West appear to be every bit the dynamic duo able to leap 7-footers at a single bound.

Essentially, this just has the look of MVP runner-up Paul on a collision course with MVP-winner Bryant.

Won't that be fun?

Author: Fox Sports
Author's Website:
Added: May 7, 2008


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