The New Orleans Hornets have dominated the San Antonio Spurs at home on the way to a 2-0 series lead in the Western Conference semifinals, but am I the only one who has the feeling the Spurs have the Hornets right where they want them?
Yes? Force of habit? I have a feeling I wouldn't feel this way if the exact same teams traded uniforms, but as much as the Hornets have had an answer for everything the Spurs have done, and as much as they've managed to make Tim Duncan look like an ordinary player, I can't help thinking you don't just blitz the Spurs, even if you're Chris Paul.
The Spurs shut down David West in Game 2 after he went off for 30 points in Game 1, but they don't seem to have an answer for Paul. Their best defender, Bruce Bowen, simply can't keep up with him. Then again, they get up to five more cracks at him, and Spurs coach Gregg Popovich is better at figuring out how to stop a guy than I am.
On the other hand, it looks like he's been out-thought in this series so far by Byron Scott of the Hornets. Scott doesn't have any questions to answer along the lines of this one for Popovich: Why has Peja Stojakovic been so wide open so often? He's been torching the Spurs.
The main reason Duncan has had so little effect on offense for San Antonio is that New Orleans has been double-teaming the snot out of him. Fine, Duncan says in that situation, and he feeds his wide-open shooters. And then two things have been happening: They haven't stayed open because the Hornets are so quick to close on them, and they've been missing. Tony Parker, Michael Finley, Bruce Bowen and Manu Ginobili combined to go 12-for-38 Monday night, including 3-of-15 from beyond the arc.
The Spurs' shooting figures to improve in their own gym, and that of the Hornets, who were an unconscious 10-for-17 on 3-pointers Monday, including 4-of-6 in the decisive third quarter, figures to cool off.
Will that be enough? Or have the Spurs suddenly gotten old? It looks that way for Ginobili, who added seven turnovers to his poor shooting Monday. It doesn't look that way yet for Duncan, but who knows. The situation may be calling for him to reach for an extra gear to fight off those double-teams and take over games, and maybe it's that gear that's not there anymore. Are Tyson Chandler and a double-team enough to neutralize Tim Duncan? That hasn't always been true.
Does this series represent a changing of the guard in the West or is this an appropriate time to haul out that cliché about a series not really starting till a home team loses, which hasn't happened yet? We'll go a long way toward finding out the answer to that Thursday night. My guess: Even if the guard is changing, the cliché's still going to fit on Friday morning.