WESTWEGO — New Orleans Hornets coach Monty Williams certainly was not in a jovial mood after Thursday’s practice at the Alario Center.
The Hornets had just surrendered 106 points in a loss Wednesday night at San Antonio, a game in which New Orleans gave up 66 points in the lane in allowing 53.8-percent shooting. And the Hornets scored just 38 points in the second half after putting up 64 in the first.
And now, the Houston Rockets — who have been one of the highest-scoring teams in the league this season — are the opponents for Friday’s game in New Orleans Arena.
Williams said he’s concerned about where his team is right now.
“I’m concerned about our defense being consistent, (and) a lackluster offense at times,” he said.
Williams said those things are correctable, but that there also were some things on which he needed his team improve and change.
Friday’s game might fall close to the “must-win” category, even though it’s not a late-season game with a playoff berth on the line. The Rockets come to town for this Southwest Division game having lost eight of their past nine games, beating only woeful Charlotte, since losing 88-79 to New Orleans on Jan. 9 at the Arena.
And after tonight, the Hornets play at the rugged Memphis Grizzlies in embarking on a five-game road trip as part of eight away games during their next nine. Lose to the Rockets tonight, and the Hornets could be staring a three-game losing streak in the face.
Current losing streak notwithstanding, the Rockets pose enough problems, Williams said, starting with the lane penetration of guards James Harden and Jeremy Lin.
“Keeping those guys out of our paint, and, at the same time, making sure that we contest all of their 3s (are keys),” Williams said. “Not allowing those guys to penetrate and find (teammates for) open looks and allowing them one shot — that’s always been a big deal against them this year.
“It’s easy to just point at Harden, even though he’s a big part of what they do. But Lin has done a good job with finding and facilitating; (small forward Chandler) Parsons slashing to the basket. We have to do a better job of keeping those guys out of our paint.”
Of late, the Hornets have gone from a team that lived by defense to a team that hasn’t gotten the results Williams likes to see.
“Well, we’re not playing against slouches on offense,” he said, “but at the same time, we haven’t been able to control the ball the way we’d like to, and that starts with me getting the guys in position to do that, and to making the commitment to do it every time down the floor.”
Some of the defensive woes have been because of shot selection on the other end, Williams said. That has enabled teams to get into their transition game. The Spurs scored 25 points on fast breaks.
“San Antonio tried to run it down our throats in transition, and that hurt us,” he said. “If we can get better shot selection because we’re running balanced offense, it’ll make our defense easier.”
Perhaps surprisingly, the Rockets’ problems mostly have been on offense. During their recent seven-game losing streak, they played three teams with winning records — Boston, the Clippers and Indiana. However, Houston averaged just 93.3 points per game after leading the league in scoring at 106.8. They are second in the league at 104.4 now.
Defensively, the Rockets have given up 103.7 points per game during their past nine, even with the 88-79 loss to the Hornets.
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