Big Easy Buzz Blog - January 8, 2010

Hornets seek fifth straight win, with 3-32 Nets visiting

By: Jim Eichenhofer,
If you thought the first few weeks of the Hornets’ season were eventful – including a head-coaching change and an injury to the team’s best player – consider what the New Jersey Nets went through early in 2009-10. Just like the Hornets, the Nets changed head coaches (from Lawrence Frank to Kiki Vandeweghe). Their best player, 2009 All-Star Devin Harris, missed the first three weeks of November to injury.

Along the way, New Jersey set the NBA record for worst-ever start to a season (0-18) and had several other key players in addition to Harris be sidelined with injuries. As if to underscore how miserable the Nets’ luck has been, on Nov. 7 fourth-leading scorer Chris Douglas-Roberts was diagnosed with the NBA’s first confirmed case of swine flu.

While no rational person expected New Jersey to contend for a playoff berth, even in the Eastern Conference, it’s difficult to fathom how the Nets could be 3-32. On paper, they have some attractive building blocks, with Harris, Douglas-Roberts, emerging second-year center Brook Lopez and rapidly improving Yi Jianlian. Ironically, their historic losing streak almost never got started – the Nets coughed up a big fourth-quarter lead in Minnesota in Game 1.

As my colleague writer Ben Couch wrote, “this has been a season that started with low pundit expectations (generally 25-30 wins), falling victim to a similarly developing Timberwolves team in the opener – which included the first of many, many injuries when Jarvis Hayes tore his hamstring in two places – and everything snowballing from there… and rolling off a cliff.”

For the surging Hornets (17-16), tonight is a prime opportunity to post a season-high fifth straight victory, as well as extend their home winning streak to six games.

“We’ve taken some strides to be a better team, and we look like a better team and are playing better on defense,” Devin Brown said this morning. “But when you’re coming into a game like this, you can’t look at (the Nets’) record. If you do, you start falling into that trap, and they hang around in the fourth quarter, when you don’t know what could happen. We’ve got to come out and show that we can be the team we want to be. We have to have a good start and maintain that for four quarters.”

New Orleans is in the midst of its best stretch of the season and is trying to build on its first consecutive road victories of 2009-10.

“There’s a different confidence right now,” Brown described. “We’re holding each other accountable for our defensive mistakes, and everyone who steps on the floor knows that. Whether it was earlier this year or last (season), we weren’t doing that.” postgame: Hornets 103, Nets 99

The Hornets have only won one game all season by a double-digit margin, and that happened two months ago. So maybe we shouldn’t have been surprised when – even with an opponent off to one of the worst starts in NBA history visiting New Orleans tonight – the outcome wasn’t decided until the harrowing final few seconds.

New Orleans (18-16) appeared to be in control for most of the game, but New Jersey (3-33) kept scratching and clawing, in pursuit of just its second road win. After an improbable series of events, the Nets managed to erase what had been a 10-point deficit with only 2:06 remaining. New Jersey grabbed a 99-98 lead with 11 seconds to go, but Chris Paul converted a conventional three-point play to give New Orleans a 101-99 edge. After Nets forward Yi Jianlian was whistled for a moving pick foul, David West’s two free throws iced the win.

“It was an unfortunate situation, but we got the win,” Paul said of nearly losing a game the Hornets appeared to have in control. “At the end of the year, they’re not going to ask, ‘How much did you beat this team by?’ Sometimes you have to win ugly.”

It certainly wasn’t easy, but New Orleans posted its fifth straight victory, which is the longest active winning streak in the NBA. When an AP reporter mentioned that fact to Paul, the two-time All-Star raised his eyebrows, quickly saying “we’re not getting ahead of ourselves. We’re playing pretty good basketball right now, going out expecting to win. I think as long as we have that mindset, we’ve got a chance.”

New Orleans’ only win of the entire 2009-10 season that came by more than nine points occurred on Nov. 9, when the Hornets routed the Clippers 112-84. The numerous close victories explain how the Hornets can be two games over .500 yet outscored by a total of 72 points this season.