New Orleans went 2-1 last week, but a 29-point defeat at home to the Los Angeles Lakers caused the Hornets to drop three spots apiece in the ESPN.com and NBA.com power rankings.
Time for our Tuesday look at where the Hornets stand among the 30 NBA teams in the polls:
SI.com (4th, same as previous week):
"Sunday's victory at Houston was their 10th in the last 12 games and improved their road record to 15-5. Now Chris Paul & Co. play a stretch of five straight and seven of eight in New Orleans."
The five-game homestand that begins Wednesday is the Hornets' longest of 2007-08. On paper, it's an opportunity for New Orleans to move further up the Western Conference standings, as well as improve upon its so-so home record of 10-7. Four of the opponents are well below .500 (Seattle, Charlotte, Milwaukee, Los Angeles Clippers), with red-hot Portland rounding out the quintet. The Trail Blazers were pounded by the Hornets in their Nov. 2 trip to the Big Easy, but have made a hard-to-believe improvement since they started the season 5-12.
If you can make it to only one game on this homestand, you may want to circle the Jan. 23 tilt vs. Portland. That one is an interesting matchup of up-and-coming West teams that will be viewed with interest around the NBA. After the Hornets play at San Antonio on Jan. 26, they have two more attractive January home games, hosting Denver and Golden State on Jan. 28 and Jan. 30, respectively.
ESPN.com (6th, down 3 spots):
"The Hornets had to drop some after being obliterated at home by the Lakers. But they're not going to fall too far in the midst of a seven-game win streak on the road, with six of those victims residing in the West."
New Orleans' recent success against the Western Conference which is far superior to the East by any measure brings up an interesting fact about the season so far. Strangely enough, the Hornets actually have a better winning percentage vs. West opponents (18-8, for a .692 percentage) than against the East (7-4, .636 percentage).
If you break down the numbers further, you can see that a big factor in this stat has been the Hornets' ability to beat lower-echelon West foes. New Orleans is 10-1 against West clubs that currently have losing records, the lone blemish being Nov. 26 vs. Minnesota. The Hornets are 8-7 in the games against West playoff contenders, including beating Phoenix (twice), Dallas, Portland, Denver, the Lakers, Golden State and Houston.
NBA.com (8th, down 3 spots):
"At 15-5 away from New Orleans Arena, the Hornets already have as many road wins as they did last season. Only the Celtics have a better road record."
ESPN analyst Hubie Brown chatted with us before the Miami game, saying that the club's success in away games has been the most surprising aspect of the Hornets' 2007-08 season. New Orleans is 6-2 in road games decided by six points or less.
Brown: "When you have a young team whether it's high school, college or pro they sputter a lot on the road. They don't a) make the (big) play, and they don't b) get the calls (from officials). That's every bit as important. They've also been outstanding in close games on the road, which is unusual."
Dime Magazine (8th, same as previous week):
"This team is playing so well that they haven't had use for lottery pick Julian Wright, who would be contributing to a lot of teams right now with his skills."
In praising the rookie from Kansas, Dime is acknowledging his ability and potential to be a factor in the long term. Wright seemed to understand early in the season that he may not get as much opportunity as other first-year pros, because the Hornets have talented veterans at his position.
Back on Nov. 2, Wright said this about being patient as a rookie on a competitive team: "I understand that you've always got to earn your minutes. That's just how it is. You have to earn the coaches' trust. I came to a team that has a lot of veterans and is a deep squad. It's really up to me to work hard and be ready when my number's called."
Wright had one stretch where he was getting into every game, but lately he's been on the inactive list. The good-natured 6-foot-8 forward is very well-liked by his teammates and continues to work hard in practice, which bodes well for his NBA future even if we don't get to see more than glimpses of him this season.