NEW ORLEANS — When this week started, the Hornets were 5-14 and had lost five of their past six games.
But optimism was in the chilly December air. Rookie power forward Anthony Davis, who had been looking more and more like a future star, was set to return after missing 11 games with a stress reaction in his left ankle.
And the Hornets were about to embark on a week that featured home games against the Washington Wizards and Minnesota Timberwolves wrapped around a road game against the Oklahoma City Thunder.
But the week got off to a bad start when the Hornets, in Davis’ first game back, experienced a disappointing loss Tuesday to the Wizards, who came in with a 2-15 record that included an 0-8 mark in road games.
Predictably, the Hornets lost at Oklahoma City on Wednesday, but there was some optimism in that. Playing a team that had annihilated them twice in New Orleans, the Hornets led by 11 late in the third quarter. Oklahoma City, the Western Conference favorite, went on a 16-2 run and seized control to post a 92-88 victory.
Hornets coach Monty Williams likes moral victories about as much as he would like finishing second in a duel. But in the Hornets’ performance against the Thunder, he seemed to find solace in that he and his staff’s teachings are getting through after recent lineup juggling.
“I thought we competed,” said Williams, whose team has lost five in a row. “I thought we brought an edge. Obviously we lost the game, but when we compete that way, your give yourselves a chance.”
Minnesota (10-9) beat the Denver Nuggets 109-105 on Wednesday, its fifth win in seven games. The Timberwolves are seeking their third win in a row. Minnesota has averaged 97.9 points during this seven-game stretch after averaging 91.8 in its previous five games — all losses.
All-Star forward Kevin Love missed the first nine games of the season. Since returning 10 games ago, Love is back to his old self, averaging 19.9 points and 14.2 rebounds. His matchup with Davis, who scored 11 points at Oklahoma City, bears watching — particularly perimeter defense for Davis, who has been touted for his versatility. Love will test that with his 3-point shooting.
An even more intriguing battle may be Love against the Hornets’ Ryan Anderson, the NBA’s leader in 3-point shooting. Anderson has been starting in place of Davis and will be matched against Love early on.
Anderson certainly has shown he can score and may put pressure on Love with his long-distance shooting. But keeping Love from getting offensive rebounds, an area where opponents have hurt the Hornets, will be a key.
Point guard Ricky Rubio is about to return for the Timberwolves. But, as fate would have it for Hornets fans, he won’t be back until Saturday’s game at Dallas. He has been out since March after he tore his left ACL when he collided with Kobe Bryant during a game.