“Not having Eric (Gordon) and Jason (Smith) has made it a lot harder to set a rotation, so we’ve used this time to get guys acclimated to our system and how we want to operate.” Monty Williams, New Orleans Hornets coach
NEW ORLEANS — When the Hornets’ training camp began on Oct. 2, coach Monty Williams expected to use this week to make final preparations for the season-opener on Halloween night.
He wanted to start working on setting his player rotation, perhaps put in the final offensive sets and defenses. But with starting guard and expected leading scorer Eric Gordon still nursing a sore knee, and power forward Jason Smith, a key reserve, out with a back injury, this week will not depart that much from normal training camp.
“Not having Eric and Jason has made it a lot harder to set a rotation, so we’ve used this time to get guys acclimated to our system and how we want to operate,” Williams said. “I don’t want to use this as an excuse, but I think we’ll have time later to set our rotation.
“In the meantime, we’re going to defend and play hard, and those are the things I’m focused on as far as us getting better.”
Starting tonight, the Hornets (3-2) will play their final three preseason games in five days, after playing their first five with more practice time in between, for the most part. The Hornets play the Mavericks (2-2) in Dallas, then come home to play a rematch against Houston on Wednesday, before ending the preseason at the NBA champion Miami Heat on Friday.
The Hornets have struggled in their past two preseason games, being routed at Atlanta on Thursday after a similar blowout loss on Oct. 12 at Houston. However, point guard Greivis Vasquez said he looks forward to the ending flurry of games, saying it will give the young team a taste of what the regular season is like.
“It’ll be more realistic,” he said. “I’m glad we’re struggling right now. That way, we can correct all that. We’re going hard in practice still. We’re not having walk-throughs and shoot-arounds.”
In particular, Williams wants to see his team cut down on turnovers and avoid the third-quarter meltdowns they’ve experienced the past two games. That led to his decision to scale back the amount of plays and information he is expecting his team to digest.
The Hornets committed 16 turnovers against Atlanta and were outscored 26-7 in the third quarter. Against Houston, New Orleans turned the ball over 18 times, and the Hornets were outscored 22-10 in the third. Williams seemed concerned that in all of the play installation that the Hornets had lost sight of the bigger picture.
“We’re going to make sure the guys understand the style of basketball we have to play,” he said. “I don’t think it’s a message that’s been received and carried out.
“But we don’t have that room to back off the intensity that we need. I thought we did that the other day (against Atlanta).”
Monday, Lance Thomas may get the starting nod at small forward. Thomas, who played power forward and some backup center last year after coming to the Hornets, has been one of training camp’s most consistent performers while playing both forward spots.
“It’s something I going to look at for a game or two, maybe more,” Williams said. “But Lance may give us some toughness out there, a little bit of stability. He plays hard every possession, and I felt we needed some of that.”
Meanwhile, perhaps the key to the Hornets becoming more fluid — Gordon — isn’t coming back any time soon. Neither is Smith.
“I don’t see those guys playing in the next couple of games, maybe not any more this preseason,” Williams said. “It’s not ideal, but it’s the situation we have.”