2010-2011 has certainly been one of ups and downs for the New Orleans Hornets. They started off the season 8-0, then regressed back to the middle of the pack of the Western Conference and with a recent 9-0 winning streak they are right back in third place of the standings.
And this isn’t one of those nine game winning streaks with a pair of games against the Warriors, a trip to New Jersey and home games against the Pacers, Pistons and Bucks. No, the Hornets have played against some of the league’s very best teams during this streak. They have three overtime victories in this stretch (over the Magic, Rockets and Grizzlies), a 41-point win over the Atlanta Hawks, a 24-point demolition of the division rival Spurs and close wins over the Bobcats, Raptors and Thunder.
Their most recent victory over the Thunder was a thriller. Not to say this was a very entertaining game from start to finish, because, frankly, the first quarter of this game was nearly unwatchable. But the Hornets and Thunder went toe-to-toe for 48 minutes, with no team creating more than a five point lead after the first period. New Orleans, who lead the NBA in points allowed per game, gave up just 89 points to Oklahoma City. During the nine game stretch, the Hornets have allowed just 96.5 points per 100 possessions, which would be the number one mark in the NBA if kept up for an entire year. What’s more impressive is that, on the entire year, the Hornets have the third best defensive efficiency in the league, trailing only the Bulls and Celtics.
The Hornets played stifling defense for most of the game against the Thunder, forcing Kevin Durant to take 18 shots to score 16 points from the field while holding Russell Westbrook to just 18 points. In crunch time, we saw what we have for many years. Chris Paul and David West took over the game. First it was Paul, knocking down a hero three to tie the ballgame and then it was West, raining in impossible jumpshots with the defense right in his face. With a minute left, following a Westbrook putback to give the Thunder a two-point lead, Paul orchestrated a beautiful play, resulting in a pinpoint behind-the-back pass to West, who promptly knocked down the 19-footer to tie it back up.
Oklahoma City actually had a chance to hold the ball for the game-winning shot but their inbounds pass with 15 seconds left was stolen by Paul. On a set inbounds play, the Hornets put the ball in David West’s hands with nine seconds left and let him isolate. He wasn’t given any room but he still managed to hit a jumper in the face of Serge Ibaka with .5 seconds left. The Thunder threw away the ball on the last play of the game and the Hornets captured yet another victory. Paul finished the game with 24 points, nine assists, four rebounds and three steals (two of which came in the final half of the fourth quarter) and West overcame early foul trouble to add 20 hard earned points of his own, eight of which came in the final four minutes of the game.
More on the Hornets and their play so far this season after the break…