NEW ORLEANS — The New Orleans Hornets made a triumphant return home after notching back-to-back wins in ending their three-game Eastern swing, including an impressive victory against the Boston Celtics.
However, visiting the Hornets (13-26) on Saturday night is one of the NBA’s more surprising teams, the Golden State Warriors, coached by Mark Jackson.
The Warriors are second in the Pacific Division and had a five-game winning streak from Dec. 5-12, with all the games on the road, including at Miami. Then they won four straight to end 2012 and open 2013, beating the Clippers, the Pacific’s first-place team, and the Celtics.
Golden State has been on a bit of a slide of late, but Hornets coach Monty Williams said the Warriors are for real. Williams ran off a litany of reasons the Warriors are good offensively — guard play, post-up options, shooters and being solid in transition.
However, a key reason behind their success is defense.
“Their defense is better than it was last year,” Williams said. “They zone a little bit.”
Even though the Warriors rank just 22nd statistically, there has been a bigger commitment to defense, and it’s paying off, said guard Stephen Curry, who is being mentioned as a possible All-Star.
“Some teams have individual stoppers, but when you have five guys in unison, rotating the right way, helping each other, talking, giving maximum effort, it’s going to show up each night,” Curry said. “We tried outscoring teams, but it doesn’t promote consistency or lend itself to where we’re trying to go, which is the playoffs.”
Williams is familiar with two Warriors — point guard Jarrett Jack and power forward Carl Landry — who are playing solid roles in Golden State’s effort to reach the postseason. Both are former Hornets.
In the teams’ first meeting Dec. 18 at Oakland, Jack had 16 points and 10 assists and Landry 16 points and nine rebounds, including five offensive rebounds, in a 103-96 win.
“Carl kicked our butts inside with his physicality, and Jarrett was really good knocking down shots and being a leader on the floor,” Williams said.
That left the Hornets at 5-19. They’ve gone 8-7 since then. More importantly, they have won six of their past seven games.
Golden State will be playing the Hornets in a back-to-back game situation, having played at San Antonio on Friday night.
However, as the Hornets showed against Boston, the night after winning at Philadelphia, that does not necessarily spell a loss, even against a good, experienced team.
New Orleans won the rebound battle (48-33) and was aggressive going to the basket, making more free throws (26) than the Celtics attempted (16).
“I think we’re playing harder for 48 minutes or as close as we can, maybe 45,” Williams said of his team’s recent winning. “We haven’t had that big quarter that we give up, but even when we do have it, we come back after having our own big quarter. But I think (the key is) the ability to play as close as you can to 48 minutes at a high level.”
Starting shooting guard guard Eric Gordon is expected to return to the lineup. Gordon did not play against Boston, as the team has been cautious about playing him in back-to-back games because of his recent history with a right patella disorder and bone bruise. ... Backup point guard Brian Roberts is day-to-day after spraining his left ankle five minutes into the game in Boston. Williams said he could be sidelined a week. However, the Hornets did not extend a second 10-day contract to point guard Donald Sloan, who was signed Dec. 7. Williams said the team is looking at a lot of prospects. Gordon and rookie Austin Rivers will spend time at backup point guard until Roberts gets back or someone is signed, Williams said.
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