Hornets dealing with defensive issues as Knicks visit

New Orleans Hornets Austin Rivers, left, and Anthony Davis, right, react from the bench during the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Oklahoma City Thunder in New Orleans, Friday, Nov. 16, 2012. The Thunder won 110-95. (AP Photo/Jonathan Bachman) Show caption
New Orleans Hornets Austin Rivers, left, and Anthony Davis, right, react from the bench during the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Oklahoma City Thunder in New Orleans, Friday, Nov. 16, 2012. The Thunder won 110-95. (AP Photo/Jonathan Bachman)

NEW ORLEANS — Having lost three consecutive games, the Hornets are struggling, and an area — defense — that is central to coach Monty Williams’ philosophy.

And here come the New York Knicks, who have surprisingly put it all together well. Or make that been put together well.

After their disappointing struggles last season with two high-priced players who don’t seem to fit together, the Knicks are striving with new chemistry and new attitude.

Carmelo Anthony, apparently buoyed by his gold medal- winning experience with the U.S. Olympic team last summer, is thriving as the team’s power forward after being an All-Star small forward during his eight years in the NBA. Most notably, he’s been a stalwart defensively for coach Mike Woodson, who took over last season and has changed the team from an offensive one to one that works hard on the other end. The result is a 7-1 record heading into Tuesday night’s game at the New Orleans Arena. The game will be the first of six games in nine nights, including a Wednesday night trip to Indiana, for the Hornets.

Williams said that Anthony at power forward can present matchup problems for any team.

“I’m sure everybody who plays them is thinking ‘Do I put my power forward on him or do I put my small forward on him, and if I put my small forward on him, do I put my power forward on their small forward,’ ” Williams said.

“It’s a dilemma for every coach.

“Carmelo is one of the few guys who can (play small forward and power forward) from the starting position.”

Anthony isn’t the only Knick with a new knack. Former Hornet J.R. Smith, and point guard Raymond Felton and Ronnie Brewer, a shooting guard who is playing small forward with the Knicks, appear to have new leases on life.

Smith admitted that the New York night life had caught up with him, and he’s partying less and focusing more on basketball. He’s averaging career highs of 16.7 points and 48 percent shooting, making him an early favorite for Sixth Man of the Year.

Felton is back with the Knicks after being jettisoned to Denver in the trade that brought Anthony to New York. The trade broke the heart of Felton, who had signed a free-agent contract with them. He spent a year in Denver, then a miserable one in Portland, where he played the season out of shape.

Jason Kidd, 39, is shooting 59 percent — 54 percent on 3-point shots — as the starting shooting guard until defensive ace Iman Shumpert returns from knee surgery.

Brewer, let go by the Chicago Bulls, has fit in well in the system of coach Mike Woodson. Brewer is a reason the defense has been effective and the chemistry works.

That is for now. Power forward Amar’e Stoudemire returns near the start of the new year, and he and Anthony had problems playing together, a big reason for the team’s struggles last season. However, the Knicks will handle that when the time arises.

The Hornets have issues of their own. In their past three games, they have given up 100 points in a loss at Houston on Wednesday night, 110 in a home loss to Oklahoma City on Friday night and 117 at Milwaukee on Saturday night.

Teams have been shooting at a high clip against the Hornets, particularly on 3-point attempts.

However, Williams said there are bigger issues.

“We’ve run into teams that have shot the ball better than they’ve shot it against anybody,” he said. “But when you allow 16 offensive rebounds and turn the ball over 19 times (against Milwaukee), that’s a recipe for disaster. You can’t expect to win.”

Veteran guard Roger Mason Jr. said the recent play has been disconcerting

“You can take it when you lose and you play the way you want to play,” Mason said. “But when you lose and you don’t do what coach wants defensively and you turn the ball over the way we did, that stings.

“We have to get back to the team concept that we have
defensively.”

One bright spot was rookie power forward Anthony
Davis, who bounced back from eight points and 11 rebounds against Oklahoma City for 28 points and 11 rebounds against the Bucks.

Davis, the youngest player on the Olympic team, said Anthony and former Hornets center Tyson Chandler, who also was with Team USA, were very helpful to him.

“(Chandler) worked with me on low-post defense and footwork after practices,” Davis said. “Carmelo has got that face-up game down pat. I was joking around and imitating it, but he took me aside and showed he how to do it.

“They are both great guys, and I can’t wait to square off against them. I know they are going to come out aggressively (tonight), so we’ll have to play lock-down defense.”