There is cautious optimism. There is a measured excitement, a buzz perhaps, for the final year of the team known as the New Orleans Hornets.
With an overhauled roster and youth movement, the 2012-2013 New Orleans Hornets debut against the franchise they are modeled after, the aging San Antonio Spurs. Game time is at around 7:05 at New Orleans Arena Wednesday night.
Following a 4-4 preseason, the Hornets hope to build on the positives of the exhibitions, including a victory at Miami over the Heat to conclude the practice games.
The enthusiasm centers around Anthony Davis.
The top overall pick in the draft looked very good in the preseason, to no surprise. He can run, block shots, rebound and has nice touch around the basket. In facing the Spurs, we will get a look at the new kid on the block against the superstar veteran nearing the end of a brilliant career. 36-year old Tim Duncan can teach the 19-year old Davis a thing or two. Davis will stare at Duncan at eye level.
Robin Lopez has provided what we thought he would, blocking shots and rebounding the basketball. Rookie Darius Miller has shown potential and figures to play, particularly with the saga of Eric Gordon. Greivis Vasquez played well in Miami after struggling somewhat in other games.
The most impressive player has been Ryan Anderson. The 6'10 sharp-shooter has been deadly from long distance, plays smart and adds length and scoring to a team that needed both. He will likely open the season as the sixth man, playing starter minutes. Al-Farouq Aminu looked pretty solid in Miami and this will be a make or break season for him. He is the likely starter at small forward.
While the parts will take some time to mesh into a unit, there are some important pieces that are not totally healthy.
Jason Smith missed much of the preseason with a sore back. Rookie Austin Rivers has played despite an ankle sprain. Both are being counted on heavily to provide punch for New Orleans. Both are expected to play against the Spurs. Roger Mason, Jr. and Hakim Warrick provide a needed veteran presence.
Then, there is Gordon.
The talented shooting guard remains an enigma, loaded with ability and saddled with fragility. Will Gordon play against the Spurs? Nope. Hornets head coach Monty Williams said on the morning of the opener that Gordon will be out 'indefinitely' with a lingering right knee issue. With Gordon sidelined, Xavier Henry could remain in the mix for more minutes.
San Antonio still has the potent duo of Manu Ginobili, now 35-years old and Tony Parker, now 30. Stephen Jackson is another veteran player who can score though he is now 34.
Kawhi Leonard gives the Spurs a talented young player. Danny Green, veteran Boris Diaw, center DeJuan Blair, guard Patty Mills, and front-line player Tiago Splitter are other players to watch.
This could be the final roundup for the Spurs, who have won four championships under Gregg Popovich, a mentor for both Williams and GM Dell Demps. Williams and Demps hope to achieve the kind of success that Popovich achieved in San Antonio.
What can we expect from the Hornets this season? If healthy, they have the ability to play a faster, more exciting brand of basketball if Williams chooses to go that route as he says he would like to. Of course, much of this would hinge on the ability of Rivers, Vasquez or Brian RobertsÂ to prove competent at the lead guard position, perhaps the biggest question on the squad outside of what to expect of Gordon.
Reaching 30-35 wins is quite possible. Anything above 35 would signal that the Hornets are ahead of schedule, on track to becoming an exciting young team that can reach the ranks of playoff teams quickly.
Let the games begin!
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