JDefense with John DeShazier

February 14, 2013

There are hotter NBA teams right now than the Hornets. That’s not a reluctant concession, given that the numbers are indisputable. The Heat, Raptors and Wizards – the Raptors and Wizards aren’t included in jest; they really are on a roll – all entered the All-Star break warmer than, or as warm as, New Orleans.

But the Hornets’ 4-1 record over the last five games isn’t to be discounted. Six wins in the last eight home games won’t be overlooked.

And, mainly, a 14-12 mark, following the team’s 11-game losing streak that dumped its record to 5-22, really catches the eye as something to be proud of and proof that, indeed, the pitch that the team could be respectable when it fully was healthy wasn’t at all a bill of goods.

No, the Hornets aren’t yet ready or worthy to be counted among the playoff contenders. And intensity will grow to a fever pitch for their final 29 games of their regular season, with teams jockeying for better playoff seeds and New Orleans unable to slip up on anyone given its recent success. It’s a level most of the players haven’t been exposed to or participants in.

But the team’s arrow is pointing upward. Players have a better grasp of the way they have to play in order to win and, more consistently, have been employing the methods. New Orleans is rebounding, defending and protecting the basketball – it has outrebounded opponents in three of its last four wins, allowed a miserly 83 points per game over that span and sliced its turnovers to 11.3 per game during that time, down from the season average of 14.7.

Do those things, and deadeye shooting isn’t necessary. But just for good measure, the Hornets shot 50 percent from the field in those games, which they’ve won by an average of 19 points.

Even when New Orleans had a four-game winning streak earlier this season, it didn’t play as well as it has in the last five, and that includes the lone loss in the quintet of games, a 102-89 road loss to the aforementioned Raptors.

We can’t toss those first 27 games, when the 5-22 record hung like an anchor around the neck. We can’t pretend that 11-game losing streak never happened – the players and coaches lived it, and it was gruesome to witness.

But it now has become a badge of honor for a team that stuck to its principles and looks to have emerged on the other side of it better, wiser and tougher.

There are hotter teams than the Hornets right now, and it’ll be a major challenge for them to maintain after the break. But the way they played entering the vacation, they’ve given us a lot more reason to watch them try.