Streak vaults NOLA from 7th to 3rd in West

Tuesday, January 25, 2011
By: Jim Eichenhofer,

Just 16 days ago, the Hornets were a relatively modest five games over .500, heading into a Sunday night game in Denver against the turmoil-laden Nuggets. Entering that matchup, the Nuggets were percentage points ahead of the Hornets in the Western Conference standings, holding a slim lead on sixth place in the NBA’s most competitive conference. What a difference two-plus weeks have made.

Including New Orleans’ 96-87 victory over Denver, the Hornets have reeled off nine consecutive victories, pushing them all the way from seventh place in the West to third. Although the team’s edge in the standings over teams such as Dallas (0.5 games), Oklahoma City (1 game) and Utah (2 games) is narrow, it’s been a stunning rise. The Hornets have gone from a team many around the league believed was a fringe playoff qualifier, to one with a viable chance at eventually earning homecourt advantage in the first round of the postseason. If New Orleans can continue its recent string of success, the Hornets also are just 2.5 games behind the two-time defending champion Lakers, who visit the Big Easy on Feb. 5.

After experiencing a seven-game road losing streak from Nov. 29 to Dec. 27, the Hornets also appear to have solved their problems away from the Crescent City, going 6-1 since. New Orleans (30-16) will try to continue their recent road success Wednesday at Golden State (9:30 Central), before traveling to Sacramento and Phoenix on the weekend. The team departed for California this afternoon to prepare for Wednesday’s game against the Warriors. A victory would equal the Hornets’ longest winning streak in franchise history.

The current nine-game streak didn’t just boost New Orleans in the conference standings - it also pushed them upward in various national power rankings. Here is this week’s look at various websites who publish polls, along with their comments about the Hornets: (7th, up 3 spots): “At 10-2 and allowing just 95.2 points per 100 possessions, the Hornets are the best team of 2011. Defense doesn't get any better than what we saw from them in back-to-back nights against the Hawks and Spurs: 32 percent shooting, six under 20 quarters and just 131 points allowed (including a stingy 59 to the Hawks).” (7th, up 3 spots): “Dare we say this 8-0 run – achieved without the privilege of sneaking up on people – is even more impressive than the Hornets’ stunning 8-0 start. The similarities? Stifling D anchored by a very effective/engaged Okafor.” (6th, up 4 spots): “Their season-opening eight-game winning streak came on the heels of offseason reports that Chris Paul was unhappy. Their current nine-game run followed a 7-9 December and the news of the NBA's assuming ownership of the team. Through it all, the Hornets have maintained their cohesion and defensive identity. Only a harmonious team could have limited the Hawks to 59 points (yes, Atlanta was short-handed) and the high-powered Spurs to 72 in back-to-back games. After that, New Orleans gutted out a victory against the Grizzlies in which it trailed by four with less than a minute to go in both the fourth quarter and overtime and prevailed on the strength of Paul's three-pointers and an in-bounds deflection by Marcus Thornton. And Monday's tough, physical win over the Thunder featured another inbounds steal and David West's last-second jumper. If this keeps up, Paul (MVP) and Monty Williams (Coach of the Year) should be prominent in the discussion for postseason awards." (7th, up 3 spots): “Wasn’t this supposed to be a tough stretch of the Hornets’ schedule? On Friday, the Hornets played in Atlanta, a team that was 14-6 at home and had won six of their last seven games. But New Orleans went in and delivered a historic beating to the Hawks, holding Atlanta to the lowest total in team history with a 100-59 win. The Hornets followed that up by trouncing the Spurs at home, 96-72, San Antonio’s worst loss of the season. That was the Hornets’ eighth win in a row heading into Monday’s game against the Thunder. … The Hornets used a 24-2 run in the third quarter to put the Spurs away, one of the best stretches they’ve played all season."