Hornets’ Austin Rivers in good spirits

Advocate staff photo by KAREN S. DOERR -- Lakers forward Metta World Peace tries to block Hornets guard Austin Rivers in the first half Wed. night, Dec. 4, 2012 at New Orleans Arena in New Orleans, La.
Advocate staff photo by KAREN S. DOERR -- Lakers forward Metta World Peace tries to block Hornets guard Austin Rivers in the first half Wed. night, Dec. 4, 2012 at New Orleans Arena in New Orleans, La.

Hornets point guard optimistic after breaking hand

NEW ORLEANS — New Orleans Hornets rookie guard Austin Rivers was in good spirits Friday as he spoke to the media for the first time since his right hand was broken.

Rivers, the 10th overall pick who left after his freshman year at Duke, said it could have been worse, even though, with surgery, his season is over.

“I’ll be back in four to six weeks,” he said “I look at Jason (Smith, shoulder surgery), who’ll be out a lot longer. And, I’m glad it wasn’t an injury to my feet.

“I can still work out or work on getting better with my left hand.”

Rivers seemed pleased that his good play of late had gained notice because of all the hard work he put in. Coach Monty Williams was a touch perturbed by what he felt was unfair criticism of Rivers by the national media.

“They label him and they rag on this guy, and it’s weird,” Williams said, “because they’re not in our practices, they certainly don’t watch our games in depth.

“If you watch our games, you can tell that guy has gotten better. If you look at him from the time we went to San Antonio (for pre-camp scrimmages last summer) to now, it’s like night and day.”

Rivers has gained a measure of respect from his coaches for how well he has handled the criticism. Of late, he has been a man on a mission with regard to film study, practice and drills, his expression almost comically serious.

Rivers’ shooting mechanics often comes up among local media. During practice the day before Wednesday’s Lakers game, some media were taking note of it. Rivers turned, stern expression, and yelled, “Yeah, it works!”

Fading late

Eric Gordon has struggled in the second half of games since the Hornets came off the All-Star break, which has contributed to the team’s poor second halves, although that is not the total reason for them.

Gordon had shot 13-of-53 (24.5 percent) in that time heading into Saturday’s game at Memphis. Gordon said part of it is his condition.

“It’s something I talked with Coach about (Tuesday),” he said.

“I’m definitely being productive early, and I just need to bring it all together.”

Williams said Gordon has had open looks in the second half but hasn’t made shots in clutch situations like he did last season, although he played just nine games and eventually had knee surgery. He said Gordon’s playing restrictions have contributed.

“When you’re not playing every game and you’re on a minute restriction, it’s hard to keep a rhythm,” Williams said. “But the averages say he’s going to knock down shots.

“I firmly believe … next year he’s going to have a breakout season. That’s usually how it goes for guys coming off surgery and rehab.”

Birthday guy

Recently, during routine interviews with media covering the Hornets, Williams was asked about rookie Anthony Davis having admitted that he made a defensive mistake in the loss to Orlando that enabled Magic forward Al Harrington to sink a key 3-point shot late in the game.

“He’s 19. He’s going to make some mistakes,” Williams said. “It had more to do with our not being able to stay in front of the ball on dribble penetration than anything Anthony did. But, he’s 19.”

Williams was reminded that Davis will be 20 on Monday.

Heat’s streak

The Miami Heat’s winning streak is the talk of the NBA.

After Friday’s win over Philadelphia at Miami’s American Airlines Arena, the Heat had won 17 consecutive games. Leading the way is LeBron James, who has been a standout with his versatile offensive production, all-court defense and leadership.

However, before the Heat can get to the 1972 Los Angeles Lakers’ 33-game winning streak, or even the 2008 Houston Rockets 22-game run, it appears it has some obstacles in its way, starting Sunday.

The Heat will play the Indiana Pacers in Miami. That it is a home game for the Heat is a good thing for it and its streak, because the two times the teams met this season took place in Indianapolis, where the Pacers won both.

Indiana won 87-77 on Jan. 8, as All-Star forward Paul George scored 29 points and helped limit Miami to 15 points in the third quarter. In Indiana’s second triumph against Miami, 102-89 on Feb. 1, former Hornets power forward David West, eager to show he should have been considered for the All-Star team, scored 30 points on 12-of-15 shooting.

The second consecutive victory over Miami gave the Pacers a little revenge against a team that had beaten it four games to two in last year’s Eastern Conference semifinals. However, West warned that his team, and its fans, should not get to giddy.

“We match up well with them, and I think we have some familiarity with them from the playoff series,” West said. “It’s just one game, and they’re a tough team, and they’re going to adjust the next time we see them.”

After the Pacers, key games coming up for the Heat are at Boston on March 18, which would be game No. 23 in the streak if they keep winning and would surpass the ’08 Rockets, then March 20 at Cleveland, March 25 at Orlando and March 31 at San Antonio.

The Heat beat the Cavaliers 109-105 in Miami on Feb. 24, the second-smallest margin of victory in the run. Miami beat the Magic 97-96 on Wednesday.

Getting acquainted

The Phoenix Suns likely will become very familiar to the Houston Rockets.

The Rockets and Suns met Saturday at Phoenix, but in a crazy scheduling quirk, that was the first time they played each other this season, although both are in the Western Conference.

To make up for it, the teams play four times down the stretch, including their second meeting Wednesday at Houston. They go at it again April 9 at Houston, then play their last game against each other April 15 at Phoenix, two days before what could be a big season-ending game at the Lakers.