New Orleansis starting slowly butnew coach Monty Williamsisn’t concerned as he rarely plays his starters in the 4th quarter and none of the starters are averaging over 20 mpgso far.As a former playerWilliams understands that pre-season means nothing and is the only time the bench playersget to show off their skills. The only issue with the Hornets is after a summer of rumorsthat Chris Paul was unhappy with the direction of the franchise and a slowpre-season will Paul has a short fuse if the Hornets start the season slowly. This is one team that is has a very big 800 lb gorilla running the point and if he starts to pout the franchise could implode.
Point Guards:Mike ConleyvsChris Paul
How long with Chris Paulquietly accept the losses piling up? The superstar is capable of winning games by himself butnot at a cost and last season’s injury wasPaul paying the piper. Williams isn’t going to allow his one star to wear himself out in the pre-season. Mike Conley is out to prove that he can be a competant PG in the league, not the least because he’s still trying to get an extension. Conley has not been consistent but he has been attacking. That might explain his high rate of turnovers. Conley is actually averaging more turnovers than assists in the pre-season which can’t make anyone happy but he’s also leading the team inscoring.
Advantage: New Orleans
Shooting Guards:O J MayovsMarco Belinelli
Rumors are starting toswirl that Mayo is unhappy with his role and that explainswhy he is only averaging 7.8ppg in the pre-season. Insiders are convinced thathe’sjust pacing himself and despite turning 23early in November, Mayo is mature and not wasting his energy in the pre-season. If somethingis goingtogetMayo interested in beinginvolved in the offense it should be Belinelli’s defense. The Italian has a deadly outsideshot but isn’t known for applying himself to shut down defense.
Small Forwards:Rudy GayvsTrevor Ariza
If there is a rivalry building between these two teams it is likely going to start at the SF position. Ariza is an irritatingdefender who canget under your skin and completely disrupt a players game. Inthe first matchup this year Ariza shut out Rudy so pre-season or notyou should expect Rudy to attempt to showAriza that was the anamoly not the rule when these two meet. Ariza will bewanting to show Rudy he can do it everytime they play. Ariza has 17 points in the first matchup as well so Rudy will need to show some of that defense he learned with team USA this summer. UntilRudy does show that effort you have to give Ariza the edge at least mentally.
Advantage: New Orleans
Power Forwards:Zach RandolphvsDavid West
Z-Bo hasn’t been the sameplayerthat was an all-star last season but this is pre-season. Z0Bo will bring his lunchpale to work every day this coming season. Howeverhe did have a typical Z-Bo day in the first meeting with 21 pts and 8 boards.Randolph also had two steals and ablocked shot! West played more minutes than Z-Bo butwasn’t able tomatch the production. At 30 yrs old and after years of pounding against bigger, stronger PF’s is time catching up to West? It’s not known how much West will play tonight as he nurses a sore wrist.
Centers:Marc Gasolvs Emeka Okafor
Marc Gasolhas appeared to shake off the dust and is getting back to playing NBA basketball. Hisslow start doesn’t mean a lot sense it’s managed to get Thabeet on the court more which he needed. Okafor is slightly undersized but makes up for the lack of size with a great understanding of the game and tremendous effort. It’s a battle of two classic big men who understand the game and overachieve from their physical limitations. It’s just that Gasol’s strengths are just a tad bit bigger than Okafor.
Benches:Memphisvs New Orleans
Memphis’ bench has been the sparkplug that has driven the undefeated pre-season record. Led by Darrell Arthur’s defense and hustle and Sam Young’s scoring, the bench is not the weakness fans suffered with last season. Tony Allen has been slowed by a twisted ankle but that has given Henry the opportunity to make up for lost time this past summer and he is starting to look better. Thabeet has slowed down the fouls but also the scoring. The nicest surprise so far has been Acie Law’s confidence and leadership at the point. New Orlean’s bench has struggled with instant offense Marcus Thornton missing a ton of shots. That isn’t endearing him to the new coach. Rookie Quincy Poindexter is looking like a steal in the draft and Willie Green is showing some potential behind Chris Paul. Jason Smith and Aaron Gray add size to the bench with some experience as well.
Advantage: New Orleans