Gameday Dish: Hornets at Nets

The New Orleans Hornets pay their once-a-season visit to the Garden State tonight. The Hornets currently sit in fifth place overall in the Western Conference at 32-21. Coach Monty Williams, the youngest headman in the league at 39 years old, brings his talented and exciting squad to the Prudential Center on a 3-game losing skid, most recently dropping a 104-92 contest to Kevin Love and the Timberwolves in the Big Easy on Monday night.

The Hornets eighth-year PF David West, a local guy from Teaneck, leads New Orleans in scoring at 18.8 per game. The man with the plan running the on-court show for Team Buzz is sixth-year PG Chris Paul.  Paul, the NBA’s 2006 ROY and 4X-All Star, averages 9.8 dimes per game, third best in the league, and leads the team in minutes played at 35.3.

On the defensive end of the court, CP3 is tops in the NBA in steals at 2.55 swipes per game. Starting center Emeka Okafor anchors the interior D and swats away 1.78 bpg and ranks sixth in the league in glass-work with 10.1 rpg. His hustle and rim-protection abilities matched with lead guard Paul’s swarming perimeter presence have made New Orleans the second stingiest team in the league at 92.3 ppg allowed.

New Orleans started the season white-hot, victorious in their first 8 games and in 11 of the first 12. Then, the script flipped dramatically as the Hornets went 5-11 over the next 16 games. They are average at best away from The Pelican State, going 12-14 on the road so far.

So while tonight’s interconference matchup has the Brick City boys playing a formidable foe, at 12-13 at home, almost a .500 clip, the Nets have reason to be confident going into tonight’s game. New Jersey last played on Sunday and lost at home, 105-86. They are also on a three-game winless streak. However, on the sunny side of Prognostication Avenue, the last two times Avery Johnson’s team had three days between contests they came out with their A-game – losing at Phoenix in a tough-fought OT battle and winning in Newark on January 5th against the Chicago Bulls and their do-everything PG Derrick Rose.

With the NBA East lacking the depth of the NBA West, the Nets sit only 7.5 games out of the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference. So tune in tonight at 7PM ET on YES for game 53 of the 2010-11 season and see if third-year Nets Big Man C Brook Lopez and crew can change things up and a make the Prudential Center a ‘Hornets Net’ instead of a ‘Hornet Nest.’

Czar’s Season Update: On Coaches

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Gameday Dish: From the City of Blues to the Birthplace of Jazz

The New Jersey Nets come to the Big Easy after back-to-back wins and will try to make it three in a row for the first time in almost two years. The Hornets return home after a loss at Detroit on Sunday in OT and a heartbreaking defeat at the buzzer in Indiana. Both squads are 3-7 over their last ten contests, but the Newark boys seem to be on the upswing while the Hornets have lost some of their buzz after starting the season 11-1.

The Nets ended a 10-game road losing streak to the Memphis Grizzlies last night by a score of 101-94. Center Brook Lopez led the team with a strong 26-point effort. Newcomer Sasha Vujacic came off the bench for 16 points, and seventh-year forward Kris Humphries pulled down 15 boards, including 4 on the offensive end. Coach Avery Johnson’s guys will have their work cut out for them trying to put points on the board against this stingy New Orleans team. The Hornets currently rank third in the NBA in points allowed at 92, while New Jersey is at the bottom of the league in scoring – 28th overall with 93 ppg.

We’ll get to see two of the NBA’s top point guards Chris Paul and Devin Harris go at it tonight. Former First Team All-NBA player (2008) and 3x All-Star Chris Paul leads the NBA in steals and is fourth in dimes per game. And All-Star Devin Harris has recently hit his stride, averaging 19.5 ppg and 7 apg over New Jersey’s last four games. Lopez will have his hands full with Hornets’ Emeka Okafor, a seventh-year center from UConn who had arguably his best game of this season in the loss to Indiana with a season high 15 rebounds. He also scored 19 points, had 3 blocks and 2 steals.

This should be a special night for New Orleans native Avery Johnson, who has remained connected to his hometown and will no doubt be greeted by many family and friends at the Arena. When New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton was hired back in ’06, he enlisted the local inspiration (who was coaching the Mavericks at that time) to serve as a motivational speaker for the team in its first training camp. Avery continued to be an ardent supporter and made subsequent pregame appearances including the Saints’ first home game in the Superdome after Hurricane Katrina and the 2010 Super Bowl. The Saints went on to become Super Bowl XLIV champs and Payton rewarded Johnson for his role in the team’s success with his very own Super Bowl ring.

Avery Johnson is hoping for a similar rise-to-success story for his Nets. Last night’s victory in Memphis, the home of the Blues, coupled with a win tonight against the Hornets in Crescent City, the birthplace of Jazz, would be sweet, sweet music to Nets Nation. Ian Eagle and I have the call at 8:00 PM ET on YES.

Ask the Czar

John wants to know:

What were the most points scored in a game by Avery Johnson?

During his pro career, Avery Johnson scored a career-high 29 points with the San Antonio Spurs against the Denver Nuggets on April 18, 1995.

The current Nets head coach played in the NBA for 15 years with Seattle, Denver, San Antonio, Houston, Dallas and Golden State. Avery was a diminutive point guard whose first concern was running the show by getting his team into offense and making the pass to an open teammate.

People didn’t consider Avery to be a great shooter at first, so they backed off him and made him prove himself. Avery worked and worked and worked to improve his outside shot and keep his defenders honest.

Avery’s perseverance paid off. In Game 5 of the 1999 NBA Finals, Avery Johnson hit the game winning jump shot against the Knicks to clinch the Championship Title for the Spurs.

Gameday Dish: Charlotte Bobcats at New Jersey Nets

Prokhorov’s Nets will host Jordan’s Bobcats in Newark this evening. It should be a competitive contest. Both the Bobcats and Nets are trying to establish winning habits early and carry them through the remainder of the season in order to have a shot at the playoffs.

This is a big game for the Nets as Coach Avery Johnson needs to convince his team that they are good enough to challenge for a playoff spot. The Nets stand at 2 and 1 after three games – a drastic improvement over last year’s 18 straight L’s to begin the season.

The Charlotte Bobcats on the other hand are 0 and 3, so Coach Larry Brown will be anxious to get a win under his belt. Last season the 2004 expansion team kept the Bulls and Raptors at bay to clinch the seventh spot in the East and their first playoff berth. Now that they’ve tasted the postseason, the Bobcats will be hungry to return for seconds and hopefully better their playoff record with some wins.

The Bobcats were only 13-28 away from home last year, and that included a loss at New Jersey on December 4th, 2009, to break the Nets’ 18-game-season-opening losing streak. However, the Bobcats later defeated the Nets on a return trip to the Garden State on their way to the postseason.

This is New Jersey’s fourth consecutive home game to begin the season, a true scheduling rarity and something the Nets must capitalize on because after tonight they begin a brutal stretch wherein they’ll play 7 of their next 9 games on the road. Last season they were a pitiable 4-37 road team.

Center Brook Lopez leads the Nets in scoring this season at close to 25 points per game. PG Devin Harris, now in his seventh year, has averaged almost 19 points and 8 assists over the first three contests. And third overall draft pick Derrick Favors continues to show signs of improvement as he gains NBA experience, averaging 10.0 rebounds and 10.3 points per game so far in his rookie career.

Coach Brown leads the Bobcats and is counting on top scorer F Gerald Wallace (league leader in minutes played) and 11th year veteran G Stephen Jackson (a 1997 second-round draft pick) to help the team gel early this campaign after the departure of long-time starting point guard Raymond Felton to the Knicks in the off-season. It remains to be seen whether the Bobcats will have as much of an impact without Felton and Tyson Chandler, who were both key pieces to last year’s success.

Third-year PG D.J. Augustin, out of the University of Texas, has replaced Felton in the lead guard role. In last game’s loss at Milwaukee he had 26 points and shot 5 of 6 from 3-point land.

Ian and I will cover the action tonight at 7:00 PM EST on YES.