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Today's Game: New Orleans Hornets at Orlando Magic

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2008/2009 NBA Regular Season
New Orleans Hornets main logo
@
Orlando Magic main logo
16-8 22-6
December 25th, 2008
Amway Arena
12:00 PM
Sun Sports HD / ESPN
Probable starters:
Chris Paul PG Jameer Nelson
Devin Brown SG Mickael Pietrus
Rasual Butler SF Hedo Turkoglu
David West PF Rashard Lewis
Tyson Chandler C Dwight Howard

The individual matchups in this afternoon's game between the Orlando Magic and the New Orleans Hornets promise to be exciting. The point guards, Chris Paul and Jameer Nelson, are the most recent Player of the Week winners for their respective conferences. The power forwards have contrasting styles, with New Orleans' David West mixing midrange jumpers and crafty post moves as Orlando's Rashard Lewis rains three-pointers from all over the left side of the floor. The centers, Tyson Chandler and Dwight Howard, are defensive stalwarts.

To learn more about the Hornets, I asked At The Hive, SB Nation's Hornets blog, some questions about them. After the jump, read why the Hornets are "only" 16-8, how Paul is getting so many steals, and what James Posey is doing in his first year as the Hornets' sixth-man.

Third Quarter Collapse: When I look at the Hornets' record, two things stand out to me: first, they're only 16-8. Frankly, I expected them to be a bit better than that. Are they underachieving, or were my expectations unfairly high? Second, they've only played 24 games. Is that just a scheduling quirk or is there a reason for their having played fewer games?

At The Hive: This team took a surprisingly long time to get into a rhythm. Some of it has to do with Tyson Chandler sitting out six or so game with a variety of ailments- ankle, foot, neck, and Peja sitting out his fair share. Because of the ensuing lack of rebounding and shooting, the team dropped a couple easy ones against Sacramento and Charlotte. At this point, I have to go with underachieving. They've recently gotten back on track, but this team definitely should be at least a couple wins better. And I have no idea what's up with the scheduling. At one point, we'd played 21 games and the team with the next fewest had played 24. You should see our second half schedule- just back-to-back after back-to-back.

Third Quarter Collapse: Point guard Chris Paul set an NBA record for most consecutive games played with at least one steal. How does he get those steals, and does he sometimes gamble for them at the expense of his defense? I ask because there was some debate last season as to his effectiveness on that end of the court.

At The Hive: You know, I was one of those that was really worried about the costs of his gambling. In reality, you have to consider it in these terms: the goal of any defense is to get stops. Chris Paul provides, assuming he plays no other defense, 4.14 stops per average Hornet game. If you take into account the average points scored per possession, this means he stops about 4.4 points per ~90 possession game. That's approximately equal to the difference in points allowed (90 possessions) between the #1 defense in the league and the #9. In other words, huge. The only way he gives back those points on non-steal possessions is if he allows his man to shoot something like 70% eFG- which even the casual observer will tell you he does not. So the overall answer is: even if you think the gambles, his steals rate is too high to be reasonably canceled out by failed gambles. Paul's adjusted +/- stats actually contend that he has been the most valuable defensive player in the league.

Third Quarter Collapse: I get the general sense that the Hornets and the Magic have two similar weaknesses: depth across the board, and especially in the frontcourt. Can the Hornets contend for a title with the bench they have, or is their another move to be made?

At The Hive: The last I heard from my rumor man, the Hornets are done making moves for the foreseeable future. The plan is to get Tyson Chandler and Antonio Daniels consistent time (I might be wrong here, but I don't think we've played the same starting 5 for even 5 straight games) and see what happens. The Hornets' bench does tend to struggle on offense, but they've got great potential defensively. If they can minimize their typically bad +/- when they go in by playing defense, then this team can compete.

Third Quarter Collapse: Speaking of the bench, its anchor is swingman James Posey, whom the Hornets signed this summer. Posey is renowned for his defense and toughness, and is highly sought-after because of his value to the championship-winning 2008 Celtics and 2006 Heat. How has he fared in his first season in New Orleans?

At The Hive: In a word, brilliantly. I've long said that "clutch" ability is overstated, but James Posey strongly makes me re-consider. I don't think he's missed a three late in the fourth quarter all season. But Posey's biggest asset is that he can contribute even when he doesn't shoot well. He has effectively guarded Kobe, LeBron, and Wade this season even though man defense is supposed to be his weakness.

Third Quarter Collapse: A year after getting mentioned in the "All-Star Snubs" discussion, center Tyson Chandler has come crashing back to earth. He's shooting worse from the field, and on a per-minute basis is scoring less, rebounding less, assisting less, and fouling more. Why is he struggling? And how dangerous will the Hornets be if and when he returns to last season's stellar form?

At The Hive: This is the Hornets' biggest mystery. A seven footer, coming off the two best seasons of his career, entering his prime at age 26... and he regresses below rookie year levels? I'm still considering it a statistical anomaly at this point. For one, he's had to sit out a variety of games for his kid, for his neck, and for his ankle. He's really never gotten into a rhythm. I will be worried if this continues up to the All-Star break. He solves one of our biggest issues in offensive rebounding. The rest of the Hornets minus Chandler are really not great rebounders. Additionally, his help defense is invaluable; our defensive efficiency can only improve as he gets back to form.

Third Quarter Collapse: Final question: what do you think about the Hornets' new uniforms and updated logo?

At The Hive: I love them. I know a lot of Hornets fans disliked them. But as a fan since the Charlotte days, I really like the style going back to the 90's roots. Now if only I could get my hands on these.

Thanks to At The Hive for the nuanced responses. Also check out Hornets Hype and Hornets247. Finally, Kevin Arnovitz will live-blog EVERY GAME TODAY at TrueHoop. Tip for this one is at noon on ESPN, where Dan Shulman and Doris Burke will have the call, with Nancy Liberman roaming the sidelines.

Go Magic. Happy holidays.