In a season filled with plot twists, heres a new one: Suddenly, the Hornets are playing much better on the road than at home. After dropping three consecutive games this week in Louisiana, New Orleans (27-24) won its fourth straight road outing by downing Charlotte.
The Hornets trailed by 10 at halftime but outscored the Bobcats 36-21 in the third quarter. Darren Collison, who scored a career-high 24 points, said the NOLA defense was the biggest key to handing Charlotte a rare home defeat.
All week long, weve been struggling on the defensive end, Collison said. Today, we finally put it together. A lot of guys are staying together and communicating. We came out aggressive (in the third quarter). We just locked down and stayed with our defensive principles. Its something weve been working on all season long.
The rookie from UCLA virtually sealed the win with a swooping layup for a five-point lead with 10 seconds left. As expected, Collison again had a large workload, playing 42 minutes in the second of a back-to-back.
Yeah, Im tired. Im extremely tired, a laughing Collison said moments after the game. But I dont think we have any option at this point. As long as we get the win, I feel energized.
Also feeling good after this somewhat surprising victory was Emeka Okafor, who spent the first five years of his NBA career with the Bobcats. In his first game as a visitor in the Queen City, Okafor posted 16 points and seven rebounds. With former Hornets center Tyson Chandler (foot) watching from the sideline, Okafor downplayed the importance of facing his former team.
To be honest, I just wanted to treat it like any other game, the UConn product said. If you put too much on it, you might take away from what you do and make the game tougher than you need to. But coming back, seeing the building and the city brought back a lot of memories. It was a little bit awkward for me coming in as a visiting player, but Im glad we had a good game and were able to pull out the win.
The team will head to Orlando on Sunday to prepare for Mondays national TV game against the Magic (7 p.m., TNT). The Hornets will be watching Super Bowl XLIV from their hotel.
Asked for his opinion of the Super Bowl, Collison said, Im a New Orleans boy right now, so Im going to go with the Saints.
HORNETS POSTGAME QUOTES
Hornets Head Coach Jeff Bower
(On tonights game)
We made some very big shots down the stretch. We made some good stops. It was a victory that we had to earn but I think our guys did a great job competing together.
(On the teams play)
David West continues to play outstanding basketball. We got big plays out of (James) Posey off the bench; big plays out of Mo Pete (Morris Peterson) off the bench. It was a great victory that we needed. Now we have to get ready to play Orlando on Monday night.
(On the differences between the first and second halves)
I felt the biggest difference in the second half is we finally got to the foul line. We talked about that at halftime; we needed to get to get to the line, we needed to force the action on them. And I think that was really a big part in the second half.
(On coming back in the third quarter)
Coming back is something that weve done a lot of. The key tonight was when it tightened up, we were able to continue to make the right plays at the right time. We had a little bit of a cushion to work with so when they did score it wasnt quite as close. The guys hung together and played with poise.
Hornets forward David West
(On the game)
We didnt allow them (the Bobcats) to come out and get a good rhythm by swinging the ball around from side to side like they like to do. We came out in the third quarter and really attacked them at the rim and we were able to make plays down the stretch to come out with the win.
(On the second half)
We came out really aggressive. We were able to finish the third quarter with a lead and we really carried that momentum throughout the rest of the game.
(On their fourth-quarter run)
Morris Peterson hit a couple of threes in that stretch to put us up by six. From there, we kept making plays defensively and we were able to convert on the offensive end.
Hornets guard Darren Collison
(On the game)
I think the moral of the whole story is our defense. We really stepped up and committed to protecting the lead at the end and it gave us easy buckets on the offensive end. We got a couple of lay-ups in transition. When you get easy baskets, it gets everyone going and it gives you momentum. We executed well on the offensive end, but none of it would have happened if we didnt play defense.
(On ending a three-game losing streak)
We needed this win badly. I felt that we were so close the last three games at home and we needed to come back and get a victory tonight. We are going to move forward with the two games before the break and we need to finish out strong.