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Hornets Identity On Defense

With many new faces on the floor, in the front office, and on the coaching staff, the New Orleans Hornets have been searching for their identity as a basketball team. Firmly in the Western Conference playoff hunt, the Hornets have found their identity, and it’s a top ranked defense. Jimmy Smith of the Times Picayune has more.

Considering New Orleans began this season with nine new faces on a retooled roster led by the youngest coach in the league, the speedy ascendancy into postseason contenders is somewhat startling.

The Hornets’ scrappy 85-81 win over the visiting Toronto Raptors on Monday was the 42nd game of the 82-game regular season. With the Memphis Grizzlies (19-22) on deck tonight at the New Orleans Arena, the Hornets (26-16) have made significant strides in creating an identity and establishing a new culture within the franchise.

Perhaps more quickly, in fact, than anyone could have imagined.

With a five-game winning streak — the best run since the season-opening eight in a row — the Hornets seem to have forged an identity, following a formula for success that has been consistently proven by championship teams in the past: defense wins games.

“You know, I think we’re approaching it,” New Orleans Coach Monty Williams said of his team’s identifying characteristics. “I think somebody told me, I forget who, it takes two years to put a system in. And as long as our guys are still asking questions, I don’t think our system is in yet. But as far as an identity, I think we’re approaching that.

“We’ve yet to play a few teams still. So until we play everybody, I don’t think we can say we have our identity written in stone — but I think we know who we want to be. I don’t know if the league looks at us that way yet. We want to be a defensive team. I’m not quite sure that the NBA looks at us that way, yet.”

Maybe they should.

New Orleans is 16-1 this season when holding an opponent to less than 90 points, including three victories during its winning streak. The only blemish in that record came at Philadelphia, an 88-70 setback in which the Hornets shot 30 percent from the field.

And heading into Tuesday night’s abbreviated schedule in the NBA, the Hornets ranked first in the league in defense, allowing 91.93 points per game.

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Without consistent offensive performances from Hornets not named Chris Paul or Daivd West, defense is undoubtedly the key to their success. They are not equipped to win games in the triple digits. Keeping the score in the low to mid nineties allows New Orleans to compete with anyone in the NBA. That is one consistency the Hornets have thrived on all season.

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