Robin Lopez making big strides with Hornets

Indiana Pacers' Roy Hibbert (55) blocks the shot of New Orleans Hornets' Robin Lopez (15) as Pacers' Paul George (24) defends during the second half of an NBA basketball game, Wednesday, Nov. 21, 2012, in Indianapolis. The Pacers won 115-107 in overtime. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings) Show caption
Indiana Pacers' Roy Hibbert (55) blocks the shot of New Orleans Hornets' Robin Lopez (15) as Pacers' Paul George (24) defends during the second half of an NBA basketball game, Wednesday, Nov. 21, 2012, in Indianapolis. The Pacers won 115-107 in overtime. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

NEW ORLEANS — For center Robin Lopez, the Hornets’ trip to Phoenix for Friday night’s game against the Suns is part holiday, part business trip.

Lopez said he was only looking forward to spending Thanksgiving Day in Phoenix with his family, particularly twin brother Brook, who plays center for the Brooklyn Nets and is the more accomplished player of the two.

That was Thursday. Tonight, Lopez goes against the team that drafted him 15th overall in 2008 but traded him in the Hornets in a three-team deal involving the Minnesota Timberwolves.

“I don’t think about all that stuff,” Lopez said before the Hornets embarked on their current four-game road trip. “I just want to get better, play better with the Hornets, especially on the defensive end.”

Aside from a natural desire to play well against a former team, particularly one that traded you, there’s another, more serious matter Lopez would like to help address. The Hornets are on a five-game losing streak.

New Orleans, a team whose basic philosophy revolves around tough, smart defensive play and playing the game the right way, has allowed at least 100 points in each of those losses. Coach Monty Williams has said he would like to see opponents held to around 93 points per game.

Lopez, 7 feet, 255 pounds, was obtained to give the Hornets a physical presence in the middle and also complement power forward Anthony Davis, who is longer, slimmer and more athletic. Critics questioned whether Lopez could bring a level of quality play, based on his four years with the Suns. However, Williams said he has been pleased with Lopez.

“He’s been good for us,” Williams said. “Defensively, he’s been better than I thought. He covers a lot of space. And offensively, he’s better on the post than I thought.”

Against the Pacers on Wednesday in Indianapolis, a game the Hornets lost 115-107 in overtime, Lopez had his highest-scoring game of the season, getting 21 points, and most rebounds, with 13. He also blocked four shots.

He was only 3-of-17 from the field but sank 15 of 17 free throws. And, of his rebounds, seven were on the offensive end.

The number of touches illustrate that Williams sees Lopez as a necessary option with Davis out with a stress reaction in his left ankle.

Perhaps it also shows that Williams may be gaining confidence in Lopez. Williams said he has noted his center’s attempts to get better. Lopez routinely works on his footwork and moves in the post.

“I didn’t realize he was as hard of a worker as he is,” Williams said. “He’s pretty diligent about working every day, and that helps our team.

“When he dives out of our pick and roll, it gives us a dynamic option in our offense.”

Hampered by injuries and foul trouble in his four years with the Suns, Lopez averaged 6.0 points and 3.4 rebounds. With the Hornets, he is averaging 11.2 points, 5.8 rebounds and 1.9 blocked shots.

Tonight’s game is the third of six in nine days for the Hornets, the second on the road. The Hornets follow with games Sunday at Denver and Monday at the Los Angeles Clippers before playing their final game of the month Wednesday against Utah at home.

But for now it’s Phoenix, and Lopez will be going against Marcin Gortat, who replaced him in the starting lineup while he was there.