Where: Time Warner Cable Arena, Charlotte, NC.
Listen: WFNZ 610 AM
Watch: Fox Sports South, Fox Sports New Orleans or NBA League Pass
The Charlotte Hornets make a brief stop at home, taking on the New Orleans Pelicans Wednesday night. It's the first game of a back to back, with a road trip to play the Toronto Raptors coming the day after.
The Hornets are 2-2 since Al Jefferson was sidelined for a month, and more importantly, they are on a two game winning streak. While the Orlando Magic and Boston Celtics weren't playoff contenders, Charlotte displayed stretches of dominance in both games, and closer score lines were more a reflection of letting their opponents back in late in the game.
Unlike with the Magic or Celtics, letting the Pelicans back in the game could prove costly. Despite a 17-17 record, the Pelicans have a strong starting lineup that can punish teams when they are playing well. They are of course lead by Anthony Davis, whose 23.7 points, 10.5 rebounds, 1.6 steals, and 2.9 blocks per game make him one of the most dominant, well-rounded players in the league. Bismack Biyombo will have his hands full, and it is important he stays out of foul trouble, or the Hornets could be in for a long night. While credit should be given to Jason Maxiell for his defense the past two games (particularly against Orlando), he doesn't exactly have the lateral quickness to stay in front of Davis. Biyombo is the best matchup for Davis, though it's possible Steve Clifford will assign Cody Zeller to guard Davis as well.
Tyreke Evans is another strong, well-rounded player, currently averaging 16.9 points, 5.3 rebounds, and 5.4 assists per game. He's a versatile player, but his scoring is very much one dimensional, as 56.2 percent of his shot attempts come at the rim, where he's shooting 52.1 percent. Aside from attacking the hoop, he isn't the best outside shooter, so Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, or whoever else matches up against him, should take away his driving lanes.
The X-factor for New Orleans is Ryan Anderson, who averages a cool 15.6 points a game off the bench. Anderson's shooting percentages are down however this season, with a field goal percentage of 42.9, and a 3-point percentage of only 34.7, both well below his career averages. Still, he's not someone the Hornets want to let get hot. Fortunately, both Zeller and Marvin Williams are the types of forwards capable of matching up with him.
A strong start is key for Charlotte. New Orleans allows teams to shoot 46.7 percent against them, 25th worst in the league, so getting an early lead and extending it will allow them to dictate the tempo of the game. Constant ball movement, as they have done often in these four games without Jefferson, must continue as well.
Another strong game from Kemba Walker could ultimately be the difference. Walker has scored 30+ points in the past two games, taking it upon himself to score in Jefferson's absence, and as Gary Neal continues to struggle.
Speaking of Neal, a bounce back game tonight would be great. Check that, a bounce back month would be nice. After shooting 46.9 percent from the 3-point line in 12 games during the month of November, Neal's 3-point percentage dropped down to 25.0 in December (my eyes are burning from reading that). January hasn't been kind either, as he's shooting just 14.3 percent from the 3-point line through three games. While his value to the team depends on who you ask, there's no doubting that he needs to shoot well for Charlotte to play well, because believe it or not, he's the team's third leading scorer this season. He needs to find his shooting form again, and quickly.
Player to Watch: Eric Gordon, who played in his first game on Monday since November 22nd. He only scored six points, but he played over 32 minutes, which means the Pelicans have no plans to ease him back into the lineup. When healthy and in form, he can be a threat but he's been very inconsistent this season.