NEW ORLEANS — The New Orleans Hornets started Sunday’s preseason opener against the Orlando like they had tuxedos on, according to coach Monty Williams, but he said his team didn’t look good.
The Magic jumped out to a 10-0 lead and led by 16 points at halftime. Most disappointing to Williams was that the Hornets didn’t play well defensively although it is the hallmark of his system and has been stressed since training camp began last week.
“There were times where we looked like we were playing with tuxedos on, and you don’t wear tuxedos to a fight,” Williams said.
A lot can be said about the team’s stagnant offense in its first preseason game, too, but the Hornets know they won’t be an offensive juggernaut this season and that defense will carry them more consistently. Offense, they say, will come.
New Orleans did endure in the end Sunday, winning 85-80 behind a strong work-bucket fourth-quarter push keyed by point guard Brian Roberts, who scored 12 of his 17 points in the quarter, as well as the play of forwards Jason Smith and Lance Thomas and veteran guard Roger Mason.
“We just didn’t have that edge until Jason, Lance and Roger came into the game,” Williams said. “Then it changed. But that defense, especially in transition, is not going to help us progress and move forward.”
So, the Hornets were back at in on Monday in practice, cleaning up a few things as they get ready to play Tuesday against Charlotte at New Orleans Arena, the first of consecutive games against the Bobcats. The teams play again Thursday in Charlotte.
Roberts chalked up Sunday’s start to first-game jitters for a young team. Smith said it had more to do with familiarity, or the lack thereof, practice focus notwithstanding.
“We have a lot of defensive principles,” he said, “and when you’re coming to a new team and you haven’t heard those principles, it’s tough the first games, the first couple of practices. It’s still getting instilled. You have to do it over and over and over (in practice) to really remember and have it second-nature … and we’re not at that point, yet.”
But there were a lot of positives. First of all, the Hornets allowed just 80 points. And, Williams said, the rookies were among those who played well. Guard Austin Rivers looked good defensively and appears healed from minor offseason surgery, swingman Darius Miller came off the bench and immediately sank a 3-pointer in the fourth quarter, and No. 1 overall draft pick Anthony Davis’ eight rebounds in 23 minutes were impressive.
“(Davis) gets rebounds out of his area,” Williams said. “That’s remarkable. Sometimes the ball would go up, and you would just see arms come out of nowhere, and he’d rebound two spots away from where he was.”
In its preseason opener, Charlotte won 100-88 Sunday against the Washington Wizards, who were without point guard John Wall and post players Nene and Emeka Okafor, a former Hornet. In going against the Bobcats, the Hornets’ Davis and Miller will face former Kentucky teammate Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, a small forward who had 12 points, six rebounds and three steals against Washington.