Hornets to host resurgent Lakers

NEW ORLEANS — There may be a bad moon rising Wednesday night over the Crescent City, more specifically New Orleans Arena, home of the Hornets.

Kobe Bryant and the resurgent Los Angeles Lakers come to town, bringing a surly attitude fashioned of late and on the heels of a key game at Oklahoma City on Tuesday night.

The Hornets (21-40) are still smarting after a home loss Monday to Orlando, which had been a bumbling team that had lost 20 of its previous 22 games. The Hornets blew a 17-point third-quarter lead, then a nine-point lead in the final 3 minutes, 28 seconds.

The loss, in which New Orleans was shredded defensively in the second half, so disgusted coach Monty Williams that he admittedly still was not over it at Tuesday’s practice, although he said he made sure the players were focused on the Lakers.

“I tried to get them to have an understanding of what it took to put ourselves in a good position,” he said. “Obviously, when you play a game like that, the guys know, having been around me, the things we did in the second half that put us in a tough spot.”

Magic guard Arron Afflalo did something that put the Hornets in a tough spot and that bears watching at 7 p.m. Wednesday, if the Lakers’ Kobe Bryant watches game tape of opponents. Afflalo, 6-feet-5, used his strength to back Hornets guards Eric Gordon and Austin Rivers into the lane, then used his height to shoot over them.

“I thought Afflalo took over late in the game,” Williams said.

Asked if he was concerned about Bryant doing the same, Williams laughed, as if to suggest that and other things.

“I would say that is a concern,” Williams said.

And with the Lakers all business as they have yet to position themselves in one of the Western Conference’s lower playoff positions, Bryant has returned to the attack mode he briefly vacated in an effort to do anything and everything to get his team on track.

After the Lakers lost 10 of 12 games between Jan. 1 and Jan. 23, Bryant, with an eye on the playoffs, went through a stretch of five games in which he averaged 11.2 assists per game.

The Lakers went 4-1.

However, starting with a home victory against Boston on Feb. 20, the Lakers went 5-1 heading into Tuesday’s Oklahoma City game. After getting 24 against the Celtics, Bryant has been on a tear, averaging 34.8 points, and the Lakers reached the .500 mark (30-30) Sunday for the first time since Dec. 28.

To Williams, the Lakers are not doing that much differently but are more on the same page.

“They’re a much better team as far as urgency, but I think they’re the same guys,” Williams said. “They’re playing less guys, so they keep experience on the floor. They may run some different (offensive) sets.

“The one thing I see that is a bit different now is (point guard Steve) Nash has the ball a bit more than he did about three or four weeks ago. Kobe had it a lot, and he was getting all those assists. Now you see Nash with the ball, and they’re learning how to play off of each other.”

The Lakers are 2-0 against the Hornets this season, including a 111-106 win in Los Angeles on Jan. 29.

Bryant was still in assist mode in that game, getting 11 to go with 14 points. Gordon, who had 25 in that game, including 6-of-8 on 3-point attempts, knows he’s set to face the old Bryant.

“The thing about him is he makes so many tough shots,” Gordon said. “I think you have to force him to take a lot of jump shots, don’t let him get to the free-throw line. Because when he does a combination of things, making 3s and fade-aways, that’s what really makes him hard to guard.”

However, Gordon said it’s a job not only for him, but the Hornets, if they are to have a chance to win tonight.

“Kobe’s been on a pretty hot streak,” Gordon said. “(The challenge is) especially slowing him down, playing good overall team defense, and really get out there (on the fast break) and run. I think that’s the main thing. We need to play more of a transition game.”