The Toronto Raptors ended a playoff drought and won their first division title last season. In 2007-08, the New Orleans Hornets are hoping to do the same.
The Hornets look to continue their emergence as one of the top teams in the Western Conference as they go for their first six-game winning streak in nearly five years on Monday against the Raptors.
New Orleans was 39-43 in 2006-07, missing the playoffs for the third consecutive season and extending the misery of a franchise that hasn't finished with a winning record since 2002-03 and hasn't won a division title in its 19 years of existence.
After an injury-plagued 2006-07 season, however, the Hornets (20-10) have managed to stay healthy and near the top of the standings. Only San Antonio and Phoenix have better records in the West than New Orleans, which has won five straight to pull ahead of Dallas for second place in the Southwest Division behind the reigning NBA champion Spurs.
The Hornets have not won six in a row in a single season since an eight-game win streak Feb. 19-March 7, 2003.
New Orleans' emergence is similar to that of the Raptors in 2006-07. Toronto hadn't won more than 33 games in any of the previous four seasons since its most recent playoff appearance in 2002, but captured the Atlantic Division title with a franchise record-tying 47 wins last season.
Toronto's success hasn't carried over, toiling around .500 for most of the season. This game is the last of seven straight on the road against Western Conference opponents, and the Raptors (16-15) have struggled to play well consistently during this stretch.
They started it with a win over the Los Angeles Clippers on Dec. 18, but lost at Portland, Seattle and Phoenix to close that road trip. After a five-day layoff surrounding Christmas, they won in San Antonio on Friday before falling 91-79 at Houston on Saturday.
Toronto shot just 37.0 percent from the field in that defeat - its second-worst shooting performance of the season - and was held below 41 percent for the third straight game. During that span, the Raptors are 11-of-45 (24.4 percent) from 3-point range.
"We're trying to figure out why we're not scoring," coach Sam Mitchell said. "We normally are top five in scoring but we have to try and get some easy baskets. All of our baskets are grind-out baskets and we're working too hard."
Chris Bosh keyed the team's turnaround last season and has been just as responsible for its recent struggles. He's 12-for-36 from the floor in his last two games and is shooting a career-low 43.6 percent after making 49.6 percent last season.
Bosh and Mitchell met after Saturday's game to discuss the team's issues.
"We had to clear some things up and coach and I came to a middle ground," said Bosh, who had 19 points and 12 rebounds despite his poor shooting. "I hate to lose and he hates to lose and we just talked about it. We need to do a better job of taking it at teams. If we start early and play aggressive, coach and I feel we can do a better job."
Bosh will have a tough matchup when he meets New Orleans' David West. West had 27 points and 15 rebounds in the Hornets' 86-76 win over Cleveland on Saturday, and is averaging 21.2 points, 10.4 rebounds and 2.8 blocked shots while shooting 58.2 percent from the field during the team's win streak.
"Any given night we've got guys capable of winning games, having a really, really big night," West said after the Hornets' first home sellout on Saturday. "It's a long, long season and hopefully as we pick up steam here, people will continue to support us."
New Orleans has lost seven of its last nine games against Toronto, including four of five at home.
Copyright 2007 by STATS LLC and Associated Press. Any commercial use or distribution without the express written consent of STATS LLC and Associated Press is strictly prohibited