The New Orleans Hornets’ challenging road trip ended with a whimper. Their brief, far less daunting homestand seems unlikely to begin the same way.
Chris Paul and the Hornets will have a good opportunity to bounce back from their most lopsided loss of the season on Friday when they host the hobbling Los Angeles Clippers, who have dropped their last nine games.
New Orleans’ four opponents on its recent road trip are a combined 59-14 at home, but the Hornets (21-11) managed to split the four games, including a 116-105 win over the Los Angeles Lakers on Tuesday.
However, they stumbled home after Wednesday’s 116-90 loss at Utah - their first defeat this season by more than 20 points. While Paul continued his hot streak with 26 points and seven assists, the rest of the team shot just 40.0 percent from the field and New Orleans was outrebounded 55-26.
“I told them we just have to leave that game here and go home,” Hornets coach Byron Scott said. “It still was a successful road trip. … We know we have a long way to go.”
Wherever they go, Paul will likely continue to lead them. The star point guard is averaging 23.6 points and 11.7 assists in his last seven games, with six double-doubles in that span, but he wasn’t happy with the Hornets’ effort against the Jazz.
“I think we need to give a little more effort night-in and night-out,” Paul said. “We’ve got to get more consistent. … We should never come in tonight and say we won last night, so we can rest tonight.”
Consistency hasn’t been a problem for the Hornets lately at home, where they’ve won eight of their last nine. They’ll try to continue that run this week against a pair of opponents who are a combined 21-48, as the New York Knicks visit on Monday.
Opponents are averaging fewer than 90 points at New Orleans Arena this season, while the Clippers’ woeful offense has scored just 87.7 points per game during a nine-game skid.
The tailspin continued with an ugly 106-84 loss at San Antonio on Thursday, when Los Angeles (8-27) was outscored 63-40 in the second half.
The club ran out of gas late - an unsurprising occurrence considering it continues to play without Zach Randolph, Baron Davis and Chris Kaman, a trio which averages a combined 54.3 points, 22.7 rebounds and 12.4 assists.
“Playing short-handed means you have to leave some guys out there for some long minutes, and I did that with quite a few guys,” Clippers coach Mike Dunleavy said. “I pulled the plug with about five minutes left.”
Rookie Eric Gordon has been one of the Clippers playing long minutes lately, averaging nearly 42 minutes and scoring at least 20 points in each of the last six games.
None of it has earned the Clippers a win. The losing streak is Los Angeles’ longest of the season, but Dunleavy’s team lost 10 straight as recently as last March.
The Hornets have won seven straight against the Clippers, including a 99-87 victory at Staples Center on Nov. 24. They won their two home games against Los Angeles last season by an average of 20.5 points.