2nd Round Preview--New Orl-San Ant
Hornets (2) vs. Spurs (3):
The upstart Hornets line up pretty even with the defending champs. Both are very close on offense, defense, & the boards. The series could come down to which team defends the pick/roll better. Both point guards will be challenged to hit jumpers, especially coming off of ball screens. And it might simply come down to which PG does a better job at hitting his perimeter shot.
With Paul, imagine S.A. will encourage the jump shot, going underneath picks & having Duncan laying off in the lane (Don't anticipate too many alley-oops to Tyson in the series with Timmy likely sloughed off in paint). Maybe some quick, token hedging to see if they can get Paul to pick up his dribble, but don't foresee too many hard doubles on Paul. Like we mentioned in Mavs-Hornets preview, a heavy dose of doubling & trapping on Paul is not advised. Nobody is better at splitting/squirming away from double on the high screen than Paul. Likely to see Bowen doing defensive duty on Paul, but maybe less than he did with Nash, since Pop might want his length to challenge Peja.
The Hornets like to start West at the high-post area. He will work there in the pick-n-pop game or they tend to iso him at the elbows. He can hit out to 18 feet, but also possesses a very sneaky & dangerous pull-up game--he'd rather pull-up than go all the way to the basket. Will also look to face-up out of his post-ups & uses left hand well. Thomas & Oberto will be called upon to defend away from the interior in this series. Though they should have good practice for this since Amare presented similar issues.
Bonzi could be the X-factor for N.O. in the series. He creates a bad matchup for either Bowen, Manu or Finley, being able to overpower any guy on the block (See '06 Spurs-Kings series for reference). Spurs might have to counter with some more minutes for Udoka. Likely to see Peja's number called sometimes for post-ups on Bowen or Manu as well.
Chandler will be called upon to defend Timmy one-on-one on the low block. Can he stay out of foul trouble? Tyson has improved on his foul-prone Chicago ways, but Duncan has a knack of getting even the savviest defender into foul trouble. Spurs have to look to attack Tyson early with Tim or Tony/Manu taking it right at him & into his body. The more minutes that guys like H. Armstrong & Ely have to play, the better for the Spurs.
Hornets will be able to handle Spurs' pick/roll game considerably better than the Suns. I think Pop understands this well, and expect to see more post-up action for Duncan this series. The Spurs will put the onus on the Chandler to try to guard Tim one-on-one, and see if he can be as effective as Shaq was handling Tim on the block in the 1st round.
As always the Spurs will need Bowen, Finley, Thomas, Barry, & Udoka to provide timely shooting and auxiliary offensive support around the Big 3. Parker & Manu will have to consistently hit their jumpers coming off the high screen to keep the defense honest. Maybe Duncan's most underrated job in this series is to keep Chandler off the offensive glass.
Spurs have a knack for disrupting the best offenses in the game. They've done it to the Suns multiple times, and the Suns have/had one of the deadliest pick-n-rolls of all-time. If they can make Nash look pedestrian when they have to, a guy who might be a tougher guard in a pick/roll situation than Paul, than I feel confident they can contain Paul well enough.
The Hornets are loosely like the Suns: a point guard who gets sprung loose by the high screen & who is a master with the dribble. And they have a PF who likes to initiate his offense in the high post. The one factor in New Orleans' favor is they are a better defensive unit than the Suns.
The Spurs game plan & execute better than anyone on the defensive end in the playoffs. Here is a team that has found a way to contain the best offensive team in the NBA 3 of the last 4 years. A team that has found ways to frustrate a MVP-caliber point guard who is probably an even tougher cover in the pick/roll than Paul because of Nash's shooting prowess. They find ways to take the opposition out of what they want to run offensively better than any team, and that's why I give the Spurs a slight edge in this series.
SPURS IN 6