NEW ORLEANS — The New Orleans Hornets’ game at 7 p.m. Wednesday against the Portland Trail Blazers is a return home just before the All-Star break.
However, the game is enveloped in implications concerning the Hornets overall and two rookies.
Coming off a dominating performance in Monday’s 105-86 rout of the Pistons in Detroit, the Hornets (18-34) went 2-1 on their four-day Eastern Conference road swing and are 3-1 in their past four games. In doing so, the Hornets Orleans rebounded from a Western road trip in which their play worsened by the trip’s end, as they limped home with a four-game losing streak that resulted in their having to regroup.
Now, however, a victory Wednesday night would send them into the All-Star weekend on a high note, playing well, their confidence regained, and with a chance to rest as coach Monty Williams and his staff prepare for the rest of the season. The Hornets don’t play again until Tuesday against the Chicago Bulls at New Orleans Arena.
The Trail Blazers, 25-26 heading into Tuesday’s game at Miami, had lost their past three games, all on the road. Rookie point guard Damian Lillard mentioned the Hornets after Sunday’s loss at Orlando, saying the Blazers still had two more tough games.
“New Orleans plays well at home,” he said. “There are things we can fix. If things are going south, that means guys are not playing hard, (and) we think that we are better than we are.
“We have spurts that we just let down, and teams take advantage of it.”
Lillard will be a big part of Wednesday night’s game within the game, which also may wind up having implications. The Hornets’ going against the Trail Blazers features a matchup of the NBA’s top two Rookie of the Year candidates, although they won’t be guarding each other.
Lillard, selected sixth in last June’s draft, is the consensus front-runner to be selected for the award at season’s end. Hornets power forward Anthony Davis, the draft’s overall No. 1 selection, is seen as being second for consideration. However, with 30 games left, there’s still a lot of basketball to be played and a chance for Davis, who experienced some early season maladies, to come on strong.
Lillard has been selected Western Conference Rookie of the Month for each of the first three months of the season. He leads rookies with averages of 18.1 points per game and 6.6 assists.
On his rookie résumé is a 3-pointer with 0.3 seconds left over Hornets rookie Austin Rivers in Portland’s 95-94 victory against New Orleans on Dec. 16 at the Rose Garden. Lillard scored 16 points, but shot only 5-of-14, although he made four 3-pointers.
Davis is averaging 12.3 points, second among rookies, as well as 7.4 rebounds, 1.87 shot blocks and 1.2 steals. He is shooting 51 percent. The rebounds rank second among rookies, and the blocks and steals first.
In the teams’ first meeting, Davis scored 15 points on 5-of-10 shooting, going 5-of-6 on free throws, with five rebounds and one blocked shot.
Both have had their struggles of late. Lillard shot 1-of-16 against Orlando, scoring six points. Davis scored one point at Detroit. However, he had eight rebounds and a game-high four blocked shots among the Hornets’ 10.
The game could have meaning for Rivers, too, going forward. He has struggled most of the season, but of late appears to be more aggressive and less befuddled, which Williams said is just how it is with most rookies at this time of the season.
And, guard Eric Gordon had not returned from his patella disorder when the Hornets played at Portland. He helped key New Orleans’ victory at Atlanta on Friday to start the recent trip when he scored 27 points. He scored just seven two days later in the loss at Toronto and didn’t play at Detroit because it was the second of back-to-back games.