Teams don’t seem to be overlooking the New Orleans Hornets anymore.
The rest of the league took notice of their surprising start, resulting in opponents not taking them lightly, and that may factor in to why the Hornets bring a three-game losing streak into their matchup with the Portland Trail Blazers.
The Hornets got over the .500 mark (8-7) with an 88-86 win over Philadelphia on Dec. 2. Last season, New Orleans didn’t get its eighth win until Jan. 18 en route to finishing with the worst record in the Western Conference (18-64).
Originally not expected to be much better this season, the Hornets are no longer being underestimated following a 6-2 stretch from Nov. 18-Dec. 2 that included wins at Seattle and Denver.
Coach Byron Scott thinks his team earned some respect with its solid start, and teams are looking at the Hornets differently.
“They’re coming out there and playing, and playing hard,” Scott said. “Our guys have to make the adjustment and understand that people aren’t going to just come in here and underestimate them.”
Since the win over the 76ers, however, New Orleans has lost three in a row, including a 101-87 defeat to Boston on Wednesday.
Scott said his team can’t rest on its early season success.
“If you’re satisfied,” Scott said he told his team, “then we could go a streak of going 0-10.
“I’m not satisfied,” he added. “If we have a bunch of guys in that room satisfied with where we are right now, we’re in trouble.”
The Hornets now face a team struggling more than them as they visit the Blazers, who have lost six straight following an 84-74 defeat to Minnesota on Wednesday night.
Portland blew a 14-point lead and was outscored 33-13 in the fourth quarter.
“We felt like we had that game under control,” Blazers coach Nate McMillan said. “Entering the fourth quarter though, when you have a lead like that, you’ve got to defend. We didn’t do either one. We turned the ball over six times and you can’t do that and win a game like this.”
Portland is playing without Darius Miles, who was inactive on Sunday because of cartilage damage to his right knee. It will require arthroscopic surgery, and the Blazers don’t know how long he will be out.
McMillan shook up his starting lineup against the Timberwolves, inserting forward Viktor Khryapa in place of Sergei Monia. He also continued to start rookie Martrell Webster and Sebastian Telfair in the backcourt. The duo is the youngest starting backcourt in modern NBA history—Telfair is 20 years old and Webster turned 19 on Sunday.
Even with the youth in their starting lineup, the Blazers refuse to use that as a crutch.
“It could be inexperience or maturity, but I’m not going to blame it on that,” center Joel Przybilla said of the Blazers’ troubles. “We’re all professionals and we have to find a way to win.”
STANDINGS (through Dec. 8): Hornets - 4th place, 7 GB, Southwest Division. Trail Blazers - 5th place, 6 1/2 GB, Northwest Division.
TEAM LEADERS: Hornets - West, 16.3 ppg; Brown, 8.3 rpg; Paul, 6.6 apg. Trail Blazers - Miles, 18.2 ppg; Randolph, 8.9 rpg; Telfair, 4.3 apg.
2004-05 SEASON SERIES: Hornets, 2-1.
LAST MEETING: April 10, 2005; Blazers, 90-81. At New Orleans, Shareef Abdur-Rahim, now with Sacramento, had 25 points and 10 rebounds as Portland snapped a 10-game road losing streak.
ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Hornets - 4-6 on the road; Trail Blazers - 3-5 at home.