Hornets Brace Themselves For Physical Play
Teams have physically handled the Hornets on their current four game road trip. Tonight in Salt Lake City, the Hornets face the most physical team in the NBA. Monty Williams was very outspoken about the team's latest performance, an upset to the lowly Clippers.
After the Hornets' 99-95 loss at the Staples Center, Williams said his team was manhandled by the Clippers in the post and lacked a sense of urgency.
To make matters more puzzling, the Hornets had beaten the Clippers by 19 points just 13 days earlier at the New Orleans Arena. The Hornets were tied with San Antonio for the league's best record at 11-1, but New Orleans now trail the Spurs (12-1) by a game in the Southwest Division.
"The one thing I will say is that for two games now, physically, teams are trying to take it to us in the paint,'' Williams said. "We can't allow teams to throw us around. They (Clippers) have some big physical guys, but so do we.''
It was only the Hornets' second loss. The Dallas Mavericks pulled out a 98-95 victory Nov. 15 at the American Airlines Center.
The Clippers outscored New Orleans 50-40 in the lane and shot 50.7 percent, equaling the highest shooting percentage allowed by the Hornets since a 99-97 victory against Dallas last week at the Arena.
Los Angeles rookie forward Blake Griffin easily got post position against Hornets center Emeka Okafor and forward David West and scored 24 points. Guard Eric Gordon led the Clippers with 27 points.
In their past three games, the Hornets had shown brief signs of slippage from earlier this month when they emerged as the league's surprise team. In New Orleans' 75-71 victory at Sacramento on Sunday, the Hornets shot a season-low 32.2 percent from the field.
In New Orleans' 108-101 victory against the Cleveland Cavaliers on Friday at the Arena, the Hornets allowed 100 points for the first time and a season-high 33 points in the fourth quarter.
And now, in the first two games of their four-game trip, New Orleans has shot only 39.4 percent.
"We've just got to get back on the same page and start getting easy baskets,'' forward Trevor Ariza said. "We're out of sync a little bit, but it's nothing too big. But I hate to lose.''
After seeing breakdowns against the Clippers, point guard Chris Paul said the Hornets will work on improving their defensive play.
"We're starting to make up stuff on our own and not sticking to our principles,'' Paul said. "We're making mistakes, even during our winning streak, and it finally caught up with us. We haven't played a perfect game yet.''
Tonight, the Hornets will have to come close to playing their perfect game.
New Orleans now moves into a tougher stretch of its schedule, starting tonight at Utah (10-5). On Friday night, the Hornets conclude their trip at Portland before returning home to face the Spurs on Sunday afternoon.
The Jazz, who have won eight of its past 10 games, has had six fourth-quarter comebacks this season. Utah is led by point guard Deron Williams, who is averaging 21.6 points. Louisiana native Paul Millsap, who plays power forward, has been vital with his rebounding and inside scoring.
Eight of the Hornets' victories have came against teams that made the playoffs last season. New Orleans defeated the Trail Blazers 107-87 on Nov. 13 at the Arena.
"We're going to have to protect the paint better,'' Hornets guard Willie Green said. "When you go to Utah, you know they are going to play hard defensively and execute their offense. We have to bounce back from this game because we're going into a tough environment.''
An environment that the Hornets have lost 7 of their last 8 trips to. Don't forget about the matchup of point guards either. The two best in the league will square off. While Chris Paul has been the better overall player since both came into the league in 2005, Deron Williams has gotten the better of Chris Paul in the majority of matchups between the Hornets and Jazz.