Hornets bracing for tough stretch

NEW ORLEANS — After a heartbreaking one-point loss to the Trail Blazers on Sunday at Portland, now comes the hard part for the Hornets.

Beginning Tuesday at Golden State, they will face two hot, history-making teams on back-to-back nights as their four-game road trip continues.

Tuesday, the Hornets face the Warriors, who at 16-8 are the surprise team in the Western Conference. Then, on Wednesday night, New Orleans plays at Los Angeles against the Clippers, who have a score to settle with the Hornets.

“Our guys have to understand how to bounce back in situations like that,” Hornets coach Monty Williams said after the last-second loss in Portland. “The NBA is a
cruel league.”

Golden State, which started the season 3-4, has ascended to second place in the Pacific Division on the strength of its current streak. The Warriors won six of seven games on their just-completed Eastern road trip, the most successful trip of seven or more games since the franchise moved to the California Bay Area from Philadelphia in 1962.

The trip ended with a
115-93 trouncing of Atlanta on Saturday in which the Warriors held the Hawks to a season-low 36.9 percent shooting. Atlanta had won 11 of 13 games since losing at Golden State on Nov. 14. The Warriors’ only loss during the trip was at Orlando, 102-84, on Friday.

“I’ve got an all-time great group of guys,” Warriors coach Mark Jackson said. “It was important for us to bounce back and show everyone that we’re in this for the long run. I’m proud because we could have used the excuse of being tired.”

Power forward David Lee has been the backbone of the Warriors’ current run and figures to be in an intriguing matchup with the Hornets’ Ryan Anderson.

Lee had at least 20 points and 10 rebounds in each of the seven games on the trip. Lee is the only player in the NBA averaging at least 19 points, 11 rebounds and three assists this season.

Former Hornets point guard Jarrett Jack and power forward Carl Landry have played key roles off the bench. Jack assisted on the winning basket in a huge 97-95 win at Miami last Wednesday, and Golden State has beaten Minnesota and Brooklyn twice each and also the Clippers.

For the Hornets, a bad moon figures to be rising on Wednesday night. The Clippers, who lead the Pacific Division, are the league’s hottest team, riding a nine-game winning streak, the franchise’s longest since the Buffalo Braves won 11 in a row early in the 1974-75 season.

“I think we are playing with a lot of confidence right now,” Clippers point guard Chris Paul, the former Hornets All-NBA point guard, said. “But the biggest thing is that we’re playing the game the right way.”

The last team to beat the Clippers? The Hornets on Nov. 26 in Los Angeles. The teams combined for 33 3-pointers, the most in a regulation game in NBA history, as New Orleans shot down the Clippers 105-98, showing its competitive fire against a contending team.

The Clippers made a franchise-record 18 3-pointers on 37 attempts (48.6 percent). However, the Hornets, behind Greivis Vasquez (5-of-8), Anderson (5-of-9) and rookie Austin Rivers (3-of-4), shot 15-of-25 (60 percent).

“I kind of look at that game as fool’s gold,” said Williams, saying that’s not the way he wants his team to play. “But I liked how we competed.”

Going against Paul, Vasquez had 25 points, 10 assists and six rebounds, the only blemish being eight turnovers as he played aggressively. Paul had 20 points and eight assists.

Also in that game, backup center/power forward Jason Smith had 17 points and played 29 minutes in holding Blake Griffin to four points and six rebounds. However, Smith is out with a sprained right shoulder.