Streaking Hornets ride defense into D.C.

Saturday, January 9, 2010
By: Jim Eichenhofer,

It’s never been the most glamorous aspect of basketball, but there’s a reason why NBA coaches often talk incessantly about the importance of defense. The recent effectiveness by the Hornets (18-16) provides a prime illustration of the impact defensive improvement can make on a team.

During New Orleans’ current five-game winning streak, the Hornets have held every opponent under 100 points. It’s no coincidence that this five-game span is the longest of the season in which New Orleans has done so. The Hornets try to make it six games in a row on both fronts Sunday, when they visit the Washington Wizards (12-22) at noon Central.

The most obvious change on defense for the Hornets since their 3-8 start is that they’ve done a substantially better job stopping penetration by opposing ballhandlers. Realistically, no matter how quickly an NBA team rotates to help on defense, there is only so much a club can do if it’s constantly trying to compensate for players being beaten off the dribble. The problem seemed most glaring in a Nov. 2 loss at New York, as the Knicks repeatedly converted layups en route to 117 points, the second-most points the Hornets have allowed all season.

“Our defensive field-goal percentage has improved over these last few games, which is important,” Hornets coach Jeff Bower said. “The activity level of our (frontcourt players) has increased. Our rebounding has become timely and effective. Those things have all been big parts of winning these close games.

“We want to see it continue to improve more, and to reach the level of the top six teams in the league. We want those standards of performance to be our standards. We’ve got a ways to go to reach that, but that’s the target.”

During what had already been a disappointing season on the court, Washington players have had a difficult time focusing on basketball lately, due to the Gilbert Arenas suspension. But in their second game since Arenas was suspended by David Stern, the Wizards showed their explosiveness Friday with a home win over defending Eastern Conference champion Orlando. The Hornets learned first-hand how dangerous a team with a poor record can be last night, when they barely averted an upset by the 3-33 Nets.

“The Wizards have very good offensive talent,” Bower said. “You always are fearful of them putting it together. That’s always a concern.”