Hornets' Persistence Paying Dividends in April
By: Jim Eichenhofer, Hornets.com, @Jim_Eichenhofer
April 23, 2012
The New Orleans Hornets are one reason division rival Houston will not be making an appearance in the 2012 Western Conference playoffs. The Hornets also helped prevent Memphis from securing homecourt advantage in the Wests first round. Although the Hornets (20-44) were officially eliminated from postseason contention a few weeks ago, theyve managed to affect the NBAs playoff chase in several ways. In the month of April alone, New Orleans has handed costly defeats to several conference foes, including beating the aforementioned Rockets and Grizzlies, along with playoff hopefuls such as the Nuggets and Jazz.
While many non-contenders around the NBA have staggered to the finish line of the hectic, 66-game schedule, the Hornets have instead played their best basketball of the season. For instance, New Orleans only won a total of five home games through the end of March. In April, NOLA went 6-1 on its home floor, with the only loss coming in the final minute against the Lakers. The Hornets posted overall records well below .500 in the months of January, February and March, but won seven of their first 11 April games.
Although a few local reporters have brazenly asked second-year coach Monty Williams and his players whether theyre concerned that late-season victories might jeopardize the clubs draft position in June, the team has been adamant that theyre not thinking beyond the next game. As the wins have started to come, the Hornets have begun to believe with significantly better health in 2011-12, instead of playing the role of spoiler, they couldve been in the postseason race themselves.
Right now were playing really well, said power forward Carl Landry, a catalyst off the bench in several April victories who has appeared in 25 career postseason games. Were playing playoff basketball, if you ask me. Ive been to the playoffs before and I know the level of competition and the level of play it takes. Right now, if everyones healthy, I think this is a playoff team.
One obvious reason for Landrys confidence has been the return of shooting guard Eric Gordon, who has immediately impacted the teams performance, despite still working on his timing after a three-month injury absence. New Orleans is 6-3 when Gordon plays, with victories over five clubs that currently have winning records. The Hornets have used the added scoring punch to finally start winning close games. Other than widespread injuries, the most frustrating aspect of 2011-12 for the Hornets had been a steady stream of narrow losses.
He can score, starting backcourtmate Greivis Vasquez said simply of Gordon. Thats what you need. Thats why weve won games with him. The games where we struggled, we played great defense, but we couldnt score. A guy like that is a prime-time player.
The last few games, youre seeing some dividends, Williams said. To win games is always great. As a coach, you want to win every one. But I think one of the things that were striving for is to have some momentum going into the summer, so our fans understand that were the kind of organization that is going to work to make them proud.
Over the last two or three weeks, its been tremendous, Landry said of the on-court results. Weve grown so much. Obviously the addition of Eric has helped us. But the chemistry is at an all-time high right now. Were gelling.
While many Hornets fans are more concerned about 2012-13 and beyond than the final week of the regular season, players are focused on proving their value. For many players, including Landry, free agency beckons on July 1. They want to give the best possible account of themselves as the season comes to a conclusion.
There are a lot of guys in this locker room who are playing to try to sustain a family, said Vasquez, who is under contract through 2012-13. Ive got a kid. Im playing because I want to show the world my game, especially the coaches. There are a lot of guys in here who dont have anything guaranteed. They go out there and fight.
Landry: I dont know what the future holds. I dont know what number pick were going to get in the draft. All I know is weve got games left and were looking to get a win in them. Were rolling. The future is bright for this ballclub. Thats what Im worried about right now. Im here right now. Im going to give it 110 percent while Im on the floor.
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