Spurs vs. Hornets Give and Go Preview

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We’re only getting into late January and it feels like the Spurs have faced off the Hornets about 10 times. It’s a lot like the stretch to start last year’s lockout-shortened season where San Antonio played Houston twice in the preseason and then another two or three times in the first couple of weeks of the regular season.

This is the final matchup of the Spurs and Hornets this year, and it’s our final chance to see Anthony Davis (who is a gametime decision with an ankle injury) and Tim Duncan face off. Though they don’t guard each other normally, they end up matched up enough that it counts in my book. It’s been fun seeing them face each other, and next season’s second-year version of Davis should be a lot to handle.

To preview the final game of this regular season series, Jason Calmes of ESPN TrueHoop Network site Hornets 247 joined me to chat about the game.

Andrew McNeill, 48 Minutes of Hell: Spurs-Hornets

Jason Calmes, Hornets 247: We lose.

AM: Don’t count your guys out so quickly. I’ve only seen a handful of Hornets games so far this season, mostly the three times they’ve played the Spurs, but a couple of others as well. I’ve come away pretty impressed with them. The record’s not great, but they’re definitely on the right track. What’s your read on them?

JC: The Hornets today are not the Hornets the Spurs played on opening night, as the Spurs found out in the last matchup. After an initial hot start, then really languished for a few reasons: the absence of Eric Gordon, injuries to Jason Smith and Anthony Davis, and a huge amount of dead money – around $30m while Eric Gordon was out. Now, the team is dealing with “normal” injuries (Davis rolled an ankle against the Kings and is a gametime decision the last I heard).

Combined with the second order effects of not-ready-to-start-Rivers not starting and the like and with the emergence of Greivis Vasquez as a point guard that can work around (on this team) his lack of speed, and this team can compete with most. They may not be favored against many teams, but they have it in them on as many nights as the next team . . . that’s new.

AM: How has Eric Gordon fared so far this season? He torched the Spurs last time they played. Is he healthy? Happy?

JC: “Call no man happy until he is dead” — Some Greek Guy. As far as health goes, he’s been improving. To me, he still kind of hobbled at time when I just watch him. In terms of performance, he’s really picked it up each week. 16-20 from the free throw line, 15-27 for 2, 6-16 for 3. That’s 3 of 4 games last week: Knicks, Sixers, Warriors. DNP against the Celtics. Now, his 3-point percentage has been creeping up. He’s an NBA average 3-point shooter historically, but was garbage last season and early this year. Combining this with other things I see like long passes that come up short and shots that come up short more often than not, I think his increasing 3-point percentage is a trailing indicator of his knee health. So, I think he’s coming along but not there yet, which is scary.

If you look at his aggregate production, you won’t see it . . . you have to go into the games and look a little rolling averages etc. to see it, but it’s there. He could have a bad game, like anyone else, but I expect him to give the Spurs fits if Davis is close to full strength. Davis makes all the difference in the world . . . any good player does on a team as wafer-thin as the Hornets.

AM: How does he change the way they play when he’s active and in the lineup?

JC: Gordon is the only guy who can slash, really. So, he completely changes the team. Without him, it’s feed the bigs (we have a good squad when Davis is available), kick out to Anderson (leads the NBA in 3s), or hope a guard can do some damage. And our guards, aside form Gordon, lack too much in the combination of size, speed, talent, handles, rep. Gordon has enough of the combo to get to the basket.

JC: Manu close to returning? Leonard?

AM: Regarding Manu and Kawhi, Manu won’t play. According to the Express-News, it’s looking like closer to this weekend. The Spurs haven’t said anything regarding Leonard’s status, so I would imagine he’ll be fine to play. It didn’t sound like the gash required any stitches to close. [UPDATE: Leonard, and Tim Duncan, are out vs. NOLA. Manu Ginobili will be in uniform.]

JC: Gotcha. It’s a pretty interesting time for the Hornets. Lots going on.

AM: Let’s talk Anthony Davis. He’s been overshadowed some in his rookie season because of injuries and Damian Lillard. But how has his rookie year been? What sort of tier do you see him at currently when it comes to the NBA’s power forwards?

JC: I’d say third tier, if the tiers are like this: the top tier is Tim Duncan, Dirk Nowitzki, those guys. The walking legends. Then the real studs: LaMarcus Aldridge, Chris Bosh, etc. Davis is on that next level. He gets fooled sometimes,  he’s lax sometimes, he’s clearly got some erratic elements to his game, but he’s going to be tier two sometime next season, I think. He’s bright, he’s growing, and he’s got a great coach.

AM: So give me one random prediction from the game. Something that has nothing to do with the final score.

JC: Hmmm. Al-Farouq Aminu misses an alley oop. He’s so clumsy sometimes.