The NBA season is upon us... or at least it would be if this lockout were not going on. Nobody is quite certian when the NBA season will start. But if the collective bargaining agreement gets figured out soon, we will see a flurry of moves to make up for our lost offseason. So, with that in mind, it is time to begin opening the book on the 2011-12 season and to take a look at what the season might have in store -- especially when it comes to the Magic. Be sure to look out for more of these team capsules and to check out all the blogs taking part in this year's NBA Blog Preview (don't worry, I will be linking to all of them in the next few weeks).
New Orleans Hornets
Last Year: 46-36
Last Year vs. Magic: W 92-89 in New Orleans; W 99-93 in Orlando.
This Year vs. Magic: Jan. 27 in New Orleans
Magic Connection: Trevor Ariza (Player, 2006-07), Head Coach Monty Williams (Player, 1999-2002), Assistant Coach Randy Ayers (Assistant Coach, 2004-07)
The Previews: Rohan/At the Hive
The Hornets are in a similar pickle as the Magic. Like the Raptors with Chris Bosh or Dwyane Wade with the Heat, the Hornets hold the other, but still worthy prize of a large free agent class. Chris Paul has had teams salivating for a while now as the Hornets future has been very uncertain (both on and off the court). The Magic have been at the forefront of the many teams that have been in the running for Paul's services.
Like Dwight Howard though, Paul has consistently and constantly re-affirmed his desire to stay with the Hornets. Like Dwight Howard, he has done everything short of signing that extension, preferring to wait to see where the team actually stands before putting pen to paper.
The 2011-12 season holds as much uncertainty for the Hornets as it does for the Magic.
New Orleans is in a sort of limbo right now. The league owns the team and claims that there are several buyers in the wings ready to make a bid for the Hornets once the lockout ends. The team is in an outdated stadium in New Orleans and were 26th in the league in attendance according to Basketball-Reference. While there may be general excitement about the team, it is not showing up in the finances. When contraction or relocation is mentioned, New Orleans' name comes to the forefront.
That is why keeping Chris Paul is so critical to this team. He is an undoubted face of the franchise and someone who gives his all.
You could see his impact when he was on the floor in the postseason. The Hornets nearly upset the Lakers (falling in six games) with Paul leading the way with 22.0 points per game and a Playoffs-high 11.6 assists per game. Paul, when he is healthy, is a game-changing point guard. It is easy to forget that over the last two years when Paul struggled through various injuries. He played only 45 games in 2010. Paul is a wizard with a basketball and is one of those players that migth be good enough on his own to get a team to the Playoffs.
Again, it is easy to forget this when he is sitting on the bench or when injuries slow his speed down. If Otis Smith could find any way to bring him to Orlando, it would probably be well worth giving up anything save for Dwight Howard.
But like I said, Paul is firecely loyal to New Orleans. He may not even get up and leave if the team is no closer to winning a title. That is just the person he seems to be.
Whether David West will do that is a completely different question.
West is the prized free agent of 2011 even though he tore his ACL late last season. West has seen his career skyrocket the last few years in New Orleans. Buyer beware though, his 18.9 points per game this year marked his second consecutive year his scoring dropped after he scored a career-high 21.0 points per game in 2009. Not to mention again, he tore his ACL a few months ago.
This is where hte Hornets and Magic situation differs completely. Unlike Orlando, New Orleans has some solid players to build around in Chris Paul and David West. The Hornets have some guys who are overpaid -- Trevor Ariza and Emeka Okafor -- but their contracts expire much sooner and are less costly than the Hedo Turkoglu and Gilbert Arenas situation. Also Ariza and Okafor produce about at the expected rate.
You can already see the similar pickle these two teams are in. New Orleans might not quite have the championship expectation Orlando has, but New Orleans has also seen a precipitous decline since 2009. There are a lot of questions that need answering for both these teams in 2012.
How The Hornets Will Beat the Magic: New Orleans was the beneficiary of some weird plays in its sweep of Orlando last year. Hedo Turkoglu had a boneheaded turnover off an inbound and Marcus Thornton went off as Dwight Howard struggled from the foul line down the stretch in a defeat at New Orleans.
These are things that happen and one of the few times you point to singular mistakes and blame them almost entirely for a loss. You move on from these plays and learn to live with them.
The Hornets though present an interesting challenge for the Magic. Both Chris Paul and Trevor Ariza are difficult matchups for Jameer Nelson and Hedo Turkoglu and the Hornets have some big bodies they can effectively throw at Howard. In both games the Hornets did a very good job keeping the Magic out of the paint and planted on the perimeter. That is a pretty effective way to defeat the Magic.
Paul is the engine that makes the Hornets go and Jameer Nelson is admittedly not the best defender. Then again, no one can guard Paul one on one and Paul is one of the few players not afraid to take it to Howard. That is part of what makes him great.
How the Magic Will Beat the Hornets: I got pretty upset after Orlando lost to New Orleans in Orlando, a game where Stan Van Gundy questioned himself and challenged his team. The thing that I questioned was getting Dwight Howard the ball more in that game. That particular game, Howard had a 21.5 percent usage rate and he averaged near 27 percent for the season. He had just 12 field goal attempts to go with 12 free throw attempts. It simply was not enough from Howard.
New Orleans, despite having Okafor, West and several other bodies to throw at Howard, really cannot stop him. He proved that in the first game when he scored 29 points and grabbed 20 rebounds. But the Magic went away from him late in the game and his two missed free throws weighed heavily on the result of that game. More than any games last season, the two games against New Orleans clearly showed that Howard could dominate and needed the ball. The rest of the team really struggled to get going, but Howard simply dominated.
Photos via DayLife.com.