[Thanks to paddyfairview for today's game preview. Derrick Rose is a game time decision. Game thread at 7:08. -yfbb.]
First things first: the Hornets are awful. At 4-21, they sit at the bottom of the standings in the West (only Charlotte has a worse record), have lost 6 straight, and only average 88 points per game. The renaissance that the Nuggets experienced after trading their star player has definitely not happened in New Orleans. That's partially because Eric Gordon, the best piece that LA gave up for CP3, has barely played due to injury (he's out till March), and Chris Kaman was sent away from the team to await a trade (he's back now). And, of course, Chris Paul is out with a case of the Sterns. It's a lost season in pretty much every way right now in New Orleans. With Rose expected to play (and even if he doesn't) it would take a pretty serious egg-laying in order for the Bulls to give this one away. Now that I've jinxed it sufficiently, let's get to the matchups:
POINT GUARD: Even if Rose is out, Jarrett Jack vs. CJ Watson is more or less a wash; CJ's numbers per-36 minutes are actually slightly better (18.3 points and 7.3 assists vs. Jack's 15.8 points and 6.8 assists), although he's going up against second units and doesn't have to rely on Trevor Ariza making buckets to get his assists. Without the MVP, it's a slight edge to the Hornets, who have Greivis Vasquez at the backup spot matching up against John Lucas III. Rose looks likely to play, though, so this becomes no contest. Sadly, the days of New Orleans-Chicago being a top-tier point guard showdown were short-lived.
SHOOTING GUARD: Without Eric Gordon, the Hornets are missing quite possibly their best player. The Bulls have the depth on the wings to live through Hamilton's indefinite hiatus, but the Hornets really don't - they have three other shooting guards on the roster: Marco Belinelli, who's a pretty fun and exciting offensive player but is a defensive liability; Xavier Henry, who BaBers lusted after during Michael Heisley's bizarre refusal to pay him last year, but who's been merely competent; and Trey Johnson. I don't know who Trey Johnson is. Edge Bulls.
SMALL FORWARD: Trevor Ariza and Al-Farouq Aminu (another apparently promising guy from the CP3 trade) are both shooting well under 40% from the field. Aminu, Ariza and Dajuan Summers have sub-replacement level PERs (13.5 for Ariza and around 9 for Summers and Aminu). There aren't many Small Forwards playing better than Luol Deng right now, and certainly not any of these guys. Big edge to the Bulls.
POWER FORWARD: The Hornets are actually pretty solid here. They play Chris Kaman at the 4 for an enormous, JOMER-style lineup, and that allows them to bring solid scorer Carl Landry off the bench. I think it's still edge Bulls here, because we too have two starting-caliber PF's, but if Boozer is in fourteen year-old girl mode then it could be close. I can understand why NOLA wants to trade Kaman, but you just can't sell low on a skilled seven footer. For the time being they've got a pretty imposing frontline.
CENTER: Emeka Okafor may not be the star people expected him to be, but he does alright for himself - 9.7 points and 7.8 rebounds, and a block per game so far this year. Not exactly gaudy numbers, but certainly starting-caliber on most teams. They'll never unload his horrible contract, but he's not exactly dead weight. Backup center Gustavo Ayon is a legit prospect. He's currently sporting a PER of 21, putting up 12.6 points and 9.3 rebounds per-36 while shooting 58% from the floor. Even though Kaman is back, I imagine he will continue to get minutes since the Hornets don't really have anything to play for besides better lottery odds. Omer's offensive game is blindingly bad, and I guess people will always see "Not Dwight Howard" on the back of Number 13's jersey, but it's edge Bulls again at the 5 spot.
COACH: At this point I think anyone not named Gregg Popovich is losing this fight. The defense is so good that it keeps us in games where our mostly-mediocre shooters go cold, and unless he runs Lu's legs off before the playoffs (possible), I don't see what Thibs could do that would erase that asset.
LENS CRAFTERS DESIGNATED OPPOSING PLAYER THAT NEIL FUNK SHITS ON ALL GAME: Wow, that was fun to type. I'm going with Trevor Ariza, since he's a thoroughly godawful shooter, but Emeka's contract and Marco's defense keep them in the conversation. But nah, after the fifth Ariza shot clanks off the front of the rim and knocks Ronnie Brewer unconscious, I think he'll have no choice.
I have to say it feels amazing, even against a terrible team, to go through the matchups and realize that the Bulls are deeper and more talented almost everywhere, even when we're down one starter. I don't know if we can beat Miami in a seven-game series, but if everyone is healthy we certainly have a shot, and there aren't many teams that can say that right now.
Oh, and if you hadn't heard, Will Ferrell is doing the player intros tonight as part of a movie he's shooting. So there's that. Game is at 7 on CSN. I'd say talk some shit at At The Hive, but anyone with the dedication to stick around through this season deserves a round of applause. Here here, Hornets bloggers. You may have little talent, an attendance problem, and a lingering stink of Stern on the premises...
"Lord Stern. I recognized your foul stench when I was brought on board."
...but it could be worse. You know, theoretically.