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.’

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.