NEW ORLEANS — In what appeared to be a best-case scenario last week, the New Orleans Hornets would have won home games against Washington and Minnesota around an impossible road task at Oklahoma City.
That would have sent coach Monty Williams’ team on this four-game road trip, which begins Sunday night in Portland, with a measure of confidence.
However, the opposite took place. The Hornets (5-17) were outclassed by the two teams they should have kept pace with, particularly at home, with a surprisingly close loss at OKC providing some encouragement for a team in desperate need.
It all added up to an 0-3 week, pushing the losing streak to six. Most discouraging was Friday night’s loss to the Timberwolves — a team New Orleans had no answers for defensively. Minnesota’s big men pushed the Hornets around and their guards sliced and diced them with the pick-and-roll and 3-point shots.
“We go from having a chance to win to playing a team that just beat San Antonio,” said Williams, who canceled Saturday’s practice to let his team rest its legs and psyche with games at Portland, Golden State, the Clippers and San Antonio in six days, followed by a home game Saturday against Indiana.
Portland (10-9) defeated San Antonio 98-90 on Thursday night at home. It came on the second of a back-to-back games situation, the fifth game in seven nights for the Spurs, but a win is a win.
Afterward, coach Terry Stotts could hardly restrain himself.
“Beating a team like San Antonio — the best team in the West, maybe in the league — it was probably our best win this season because we played an entire game, and we didn’t have to come back,” he said. “We were steady and played well throughout.”
Impressive for the Blazers were that they were in control from start to finish and that rookie point guard Damian Lillard outdueled one of the league’s top point guards in the Spurs’ Tony Parker.
Lillard had season highs of 29 points and seven rebounds and also had six assists. He shot 11-of-22 from the field. Parker had 21 points and five assists.
The Blazers are seeking their third win a a row. Since starting the season 2-5, they are 8-7 despite playing nine road games (3-6) of late. They are 5-1 at home in that time, the only loss being a 99-80 home clunker on Dec. 8 to the Kings, who came to Portland intent on avenging a 93-76 embarrassment in Sacramento on Nov. 23.
But perhaps that should give the Hornets hope, certainly if they look at how the Kings won. Sacramento pounded the ball into center DeMarcus Cousins and drove to the basket with their perimeter players against the Blazers, who rank 24th in the league in points allowed (100.2) and 29th in opponents’ field goal percentage (47.1). The Kings also forced 19 turnovers — including nine in the first quarter.
Perhaps the Hornets can replicate what the Kings accomplished, although the game will be at the Rose Garden, a challenging venue for visiting teams. But guards Greivis Vasquez and Austin Rivers, a rookie coming on, have shown a propensity of late to make driving shots.
And power forward Anthony Davis will be playing against Lillard, an early leader for Rookie of the Year. That that may compel Davis to pick up where he left off before he was diagnosed with a stress reaction in his left ankle, when he had a season-high 28 points along with 11 rebounds at Milwaukee.
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