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Scott Howard-Cooper

Hornets celebrate
The Hornets gather on the Staples Center court to celebrate a win in Game 1.
Noah Graham/NBAE via Getty Images

Hornets, up 1-0, need to learn to live with a lead ... again

Posted Apr 20 2011 9:54AM

LOS ANGELES -- In the visitor's locker room inside Staples Center, a place that would have been Party Central for a less-grounded group splashing about in a similar moment of triumph, Monty Williams told his Hornets' coaching staff that upsetting the Lakers on the road in the playoff opener was tantamount to getting a first down in football. It was not a touchdown and it certainly was not the game.

Williams had long ago seized on New Orleans as an underdog, the way it has been discounted at so many turns, and forged it into a motivational tool. Sunday, when the Hornets won to take a 1-0 lead in the best-of-seven first-round series that resumes Wednesday night, the rookie coach surely wasn't going to miss the chance to continue the season-long mantra.

The team's other issue is in there somewhere, too: The Hornets cannot stand success.

They weren't having any of that talk after practice Tuesday, despite the proof of two lengthy winning streaks immediately flipping into terrible stretches during the season. Williams admitted he was concerned during the second half of the season.

Now the Hornets, after their 109-100 win on Sunday, will need to prove they can play with a lead again. They had better hope this lead turns out better than some others they've had.

New Orleans started the season 11-1, an immeasurable boost coming off a summer of reports that Chris Paul wanted out. And then they lost nine of the next 12. Around midseason, they won 10 in a row. And then lost to the Kings, Suns and Thunder within the next four games while beating only the Wizards in New Orleans.

Williams in late-January: "We've been through this before, we got caught up in it, and we had a very bad stretch afterward. We can't rely on the streaks. We can't rely on the stuff everybody else is talking about. To me, it's fool's gold."

Williams now: "We've had these great events throughout the season with the streaks and all that and beating teams that most people thought we'd get smashed by, so we've been in this situation before. Now, we haven't done it against the Lakers. But we're used to being in situations where people thought we'd get smacked, and we come out fighting and we get a good result.

"I think we've learned from that. I also believe we've won one game. The guys understand that. It's a long series. We don't have enough experience to know what we've done. We've got to continue to do the things that have helped us have success this year."

The Hornets have put themselves in position for the greatest success of all. Or another step back.

Scott Howard-Cooper has covered the NBA since 1988. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

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