After starting strong and collapsing down the stretch last year, the New Orleans Hornets are hoping to do the opposite this season.
The Hornets look to continue their march toward the playoffs when they visit the Cleveland Cavaliers on Tuesday.
At this time last season, New Orleans was six games over .500 and looking forward to the postseason. The Hornets, though, lost 19 of their last 26 games to finish 10th in the Western Conference.
New Orleans (27-29) got off to a slow start this season with a 12-22 record, but has won 15 of its last 22 to move into the playoff picture in the crowded West. David West had 23 points and 11 rebounds Friday as the Hornets beat Seattle 98-97 despite shooting just 37.1 percent from the field.
“We’re still learning how to close out games, how to win,” coach Byron Scott said. “We’re still a very young team. Games like this continue to give you confidence and continue to feel that you’re always in it and you always have a chance at the end. We just have to continue to build on this.”
Tyson Chandler had 15 points and 19 rebounds, including 10 on the offensive end, and the Hornets totaled 26 offensive rebounds that led to 25 second-chance points. Chandler has recorded double-digit rebounds in 15 straight games, averaging 16.3 in that stretch.
“I believe the game tonight showed this team’s character,” Chandler said. “When things are not going your way offensively, you have to create other opportunities for yourself. We were scrappy out there creating offensive rebounds and we did other things to get the win.”
The Hornets will be facing a Cleveland club that has dropped two straight after winning five of six. The Cavaliers (32-24) are coming off Sunday’s 86-81 loss to Miami, which was without leading scorer Dwyane Wade.
The game was tied going into the fourth quarter, but the Cavaliers missed six of their first seven shots and went 9-for-26 from the field in the period.
“Early in the fourth quarter, we didn’t execute as well as we wanted to,” said LeBron James, who led the Cavs with 29 points and seven assists. “But late in the game, when we had some great looks, we weren’t able to get them to go down.”
Cleveland shot just 36.0 percent from the field and a season-low 47.6 percent from the free-throw line. The Cavaliers, last in the league in free-throw percentage at 68.3, missed 10 or more free throws for the 19th time this season. They are 18-for-37 from the line in their last two games.
Zydrunas Ilgauskas returned to the Cleveland lineup Sunday after missing four games for personal reasons. Ilgauskas had eight points, nine rebounds and three blocks.
“The team needs me and I need these guys,” he said. “We don’t have many games left before the playoffs start, so it was important for me to be here. … It felt like the right time. The more time you miss, the harder it is to come back.”
The Cavaliers, in third place in the East, have won five of their last seven home games, improving to 20-8 at Quicken Loans Arena. The Hornets have lost eight of their last 10 visits to Cleveland.
New Orleans snapped a seven-game losing streak against the Cavaliers with a 95-89 win on Dec. 11. Chris Paul had 30 points and 11 assists in that game, while James was held to 15 points on 7-of-18 shooting.