NEW ORLEANS — Coach Monty Williams and his New Orleans Hornets said finishing 4-3 on their recent homestand did a lot for the young team’s confidence.
And with eight games left in the season, the good feeling about themselves is something on which they’d like to build. However, they begin a five-game road trip Wednesday night that could make achieving that difficult.
They are 4-9 against the five teams — 0-3 against the Golden State Warriors, the first opponent on the this final Western swing. Then the Hornets play at Utah on Friday, Phoenix on Sunday and the Lakers on Tuesday before finishing at Sacramento on April 10.
The Warriors, Jazz and Lakers are in thick of the conference playoff race.
“It was a great homestand,” Williams said. “It shows our fans we are moving in the right direction, but it’s over. We’ve got a major deal going out on the road for a week against some good competition.
“Golden State kicked us pretty good last time we played them. Playing the Lakers again. (Sacramento) is always tough for us. Phoenix beat us the last time there. Utah has gotten us the last couple of times.”
The road swing also will afford some players more playing time, Williams said, as he evaluates down the stretch for personnel decisions to be made this summer.
“I’m giving a lot of our young guys opportunities to play,” he said. “Darius (Miller) is getting more minutes, Brian (Roberts) is getting a ton more minutes. I’m going to try to find some more for (Xavier Henry).
“That doesn’t mean we’re not going to win. But you’re not going to the playoffs. Can you still have a playoff mentality?”
It appeared the Warriors have had a playoff mentality against the Hornets this season. In the teams’ last meeting, on March 18 at New Orleans Arena, the Hornets trailed 80-72 before Golden State finished the game with a 13-0 run.
In that game, guard Stephen Curry, who leads the NBA in 3-pointers made, scored 30 points, including 6-of-9 on 3-pointers. Golden State shot 10-of-19 (52.6 percent) on 3-pointers.
In the previous meeting, on Jan. 19 at the Arena, Curry’s backcourt mate, Klay Thompson, got loose. He scoring 29 points on 11-of-16 shooting, including 5-of-7 on 3-pointers. Thompson had 24 points on 10-of-14 shooting in the first half.
That’s why rookie power forward Anthony Davis said slowing down that pair will be the key to the start of the road trip.
“We have to stop Curry and Thompson from getting wide-open shots,” Davis said. “They kill us with a lot of 3s. We have to limit their 3s and make someone else beat us.”
That obviously will require executing the team’s defense, mostly against dribble penetration. However, doing a better job offensively will go a long way in playing better defense, because Curry in particular is known to pull up for 3-point shots on the fast break. Making shots will allow the Hornets to set up on defense.
“It’s difficult when you’re trying to see where Steph Curry is (in transition), and you took a bad shot, and they are running back into you, and they hit a 3,” Hornets point guard Greivis Vasquez said. “So we have to execute offensively in order to help our defense.”
Another factor for the Warriors will be their bench, in particular former Hornets backup point guard Jarrett Jack and power forward Carl Landry.
In the teams’ first meeting on Dec. 18 in Oakland, Jack and Landry combined for 32 points, 11 assists and 12 rebounds.
In their second game against the Hornets, on Jan. 19, their first return to New Orleans Arena, Jack had 25 points, going 10-of-11 on free throws, and 12 assists. He scored seven consecutive points in the final 52 seconds, then said it was perhaps a coincidence that James Brown’s “The Big Payback” was playing on his Ipod as he entered the Arena.
Since playing the Hornets the last time, Golden State has gone just 3-2 in their past five games. Heading into Tuesday night’s games, the Warriors were one game ahead of Houston in the conference’s sixth playoff spot.
The sixth and seventh positions mean the difference between playing Denver or Oklahoma City in the first round, so the stakes are high.