Gameday Dish: Back in the Saddle

Photo by David Liam Kyle/NBAE via Getty Images

Two guys who have been sorely missed by their teams and fans are back in action this week and will face off tonight in New Orleans. Chris Paul returned to the Hornets’ starting lineup after being sidelined with a left knee injury for 25 games. And upon release from his contract with the Wizards, Zydrunas Ilgauskas agreed to return to the Cavaliers for the remainder of the season and is expected to make his return debut against Chris and the Hornets tonight.

A fixture in Cleveland for over a decade, Zydrunas has battled through foot injuries to become the Cavaliers’ all-time leader in games played, rebounds and blocked shots. Among the most popular players in the franchise’s history, Z is a role player who has been integral to the Cavs’ success and remains a valuable asset to his team. He’s a skilled big man, a solid passer and the rare center who can reliably hit outside jump shots. With Shaq back, the addition of Z makes the Cavs an even deeper, better team.

Chris Paul is the heart and soul of the Hornets. He’s an amazing point guard, quite possibly the best of his generation. Though rookies Collison and Thornton stepped up their games in Chris’s absence and did a terrific job holding down the fort, the Hornets only pulled off eight wins without Chris, slipping out of playoff contention. No doubt his teammates were relieved and excited to have him back on the court Monday to take on the Mavs. Chris appeared a little rusty in the first half of the game, but he hit some key shots down the stretch and the Hornets wound up winning the game 115-99.

The Hornets have been playing well the last few games and they just beat the second team in the West by a significant margin. With Chris back in the lineup they’re looking like a playoff caliber team once again, though unfortunately not in time to nab a position in the postseason series this year. However, a strong finish will help build the young players’ confidence as they look to next season.

The Hornets were without Chris Paul in their previous matchup against the Cavs, who wound up with the win. With Chris back in the mix, the Hornets are certainly capable of beating Cleveland, who lost their last three road games against the Hornets. But tonight New Orleans will be fighting an uphill battle because the Cavs are playing strong ball and LeBron appears to be reenergized as they look to lock up first place in the league overall.

Cleveland Cavaliers at New Orleans Hornets: Wednesday, March 24 at 8 PM ET