NEW ORLEANS — The Hornets’ most recent NBA preseason test run didn’t go well against the Rockets last Friday night in Houston, so they underwent a tuneup of sorts.
This week, with no game between the loss in Houston and tonight’s game in Atlanta, coach Monty Williams used the time as a refresher course for his young, overhauled team. Mainly, he said he thinks the offense was improved, among other things.
“We put in a few wrinkles in our offense that should help us be more efficient later,” he said. “I don’t expect to see fireworks after four practices. We do expect to see better execution (offensively) and more awareness in transition defense.”
Contributing to the 95-75 rout at the hands of the Rockets was that the Hornets (3-1) took 30 3-point shots, making 11. Houston, on the strength of its fast break, scored 46 points in the lane and shot 49.1 percent to the Hornets’ 33.7.
“(Transition defense) was something I was really upset about,” Williams said.
With the Hornets hoisting 3s, they were able to get only 16 free-throw shots.
After brushing up in practice, particularly Wednesday, Williams said he’s eager to have his players “test the water a little bit on what we learned this week.”
Two players who may not get that chance are power forward Jason Smith and swing man Xavier Henry. Smith had missed the previous three games after falling hard in the preseason opener and hurting his back.
Then, on Tuesday, he injured his left shoulder during the team’s scrimmage and was taken to the doctor for an MRI. It came back negative, but Williams said for a few days he’ll hold out Smith, who is key in the Hornets’ rotation.
“He doesn’t really know how he hurt it,” Williams said. “He knows he was in the (lane) fighting (for position), and his arm just went limp on him.”
Henry is another matter. Power forward Ryan Anderson rolled into his leg during the Hornets’ home game against Charlotte on Oct. 9, and he has been dealing with a strained medial collateral ligament in his right knee and hasn’t played since.
He returned to practice this week but is still wearing a brace. That has compounded his problems.
And, at shooting guard, Eric Gordon is entrenched as the starter, with rookie No. 1 pick Austin Rivers sure to get minutes and veteran Roger Mason seen as a key performer off the bench.
Henry, who is behind a logjam at the wing positions, is champing at the bit to get on the court and make up ground. But Williams said he may not play tonight.
“We’ll see,” Williams said. “He’s not playing not because of him being hurt. He’s not playing ‘cause he just hasn’t played the way I want him to play. And, he’s capable of playing really well. He’s had some issues with his knee, but we’ve had a lot of guys who’ve earned minutes.”
The Hornets are trying to develop Al-Farouq Aminu as the starter at small forward, and rookie Darius Miles has played well enough that he’s pushing Aminu. Then, Lance Thomas, who came on strong in his first year with the team last year, is impressing at power forward and small forward, Williams said.
Henry is extremely hopeful he’ll get a chance to play, he said. He knows he’s been out of sight, out of Williams’ mind while the competition has waged on in camp, and that the coach will start forming his rotation, perhaps after tonight’s game.
Like the Hornets, the Hawks (1-3) have a totally remade lineup.
Atlanta, which has lost its past three preseason games, remade its lineup mostly with the blockbuster Joe Johnson trade and has several new players. The Hawks are coming off a 101-99 loss at San Antonio in which five players scored in double figures, although none had more than 11 points.