Even a long-anticipated return to New Orleans couldn’t help the Hornets stop their recent slide.
They’ll try to end a four-game losing streak when they return to the Ford Center in Oklahoma City to take on the Indiana Pacers.
The Hornets played the first major professional sports game in New Orleans since Hurricane Katrina on Wednesday and suffered a 113-107 loss to the Los Angeles Lakers. A sellout crowd of 17,744 was in attendance at the refurbished New Orleans Arena.
“This is incredibly important,” Gov. Kathleen Blanco said as she watched the game. “It’s not just a game. It’s a real symbol of our ability to restore and renew ourselves and come back strong.”
Unfortunately for the Hornets, they had trouble down the stretch with Kobe Bryant, who scored 18 of his 40 points in the fourth quarter. The Hornets led 87-83 with 9:33 left before Bryant took over.
“He’s a great player and he made some difficult shots for them,” Hornets guard Speedy Claxton said.
The loss dropped New Orleans into a virtual tie with Los Angeles for the last two playoff spots in the Western Conference.
The Hornets have played home games at four sites this season, becoming the first team to do so since the Boston Celtics in 1974-75. New Orleans is 18-9 at the Ford Center this season.
Indiana blew a 17-point lead in a 103-99 loss at Houston on Wednesday. It was the second time in eight days the Pacers lost a double-digit lead, letting a 12-point lead slip away in a 99-98 loss to Boston last Friday.
“We can’t allow that to happen. This is the second time in a week we’ve done this,” Indiana forward Peja Stojakovic said. “We have to stay together as a team. The game is played 48 minutes, not 34.”
The short-handed Pacers were without forward Jermaine O’Neal (groin), guard Jamaal Tinsley (elbow) and forward Austin Croshere (concussion). They did not have two more players Wednesday, with guard Fred Jones out with a sprained left thumb and forward Danny Granger out with the flu.
“We were undermanned somewhat tonight and that hurt us, but there is no excuses in this league,” Pacers coach Rick Carlisle said. “They made the plays down the stretch and we didn’t.”
Jones flew back to Indiana and will miss the last two games of the Pacers’ three-game road trip. Granger’s status is uncertain.
The Pacers are holding onto fifth place in the crowded Eastern Conference standings, four games behind fourth-place Cleveland in the race for home-court advantage in the first round.