The surging Hornets look to win their sixth straight Sunday when they visit the Wizards.
After losing eight of its first 11 games and firing coach Byron Scott, New Orleans (18-16) has begun to play like the team that has reached the playoffs the last two seasons. A 103-99 victory over league-worst New Jersey on Friday was the Hornets’ season-high fifth in a row, but it didn’t come without some drama.
New Orleans led by 15 before the Nets rallied to take a 99-98 lead. Chris Paul(notes), who finished with 11 points and 18 assists, completed a three-point play after being fouled on a layup with 7.6 seconds to play.
“Momentum is part of the thing with winning,” said David West(notes), who had 32 points and 10 rebounds. “You get an opportunity to close games out, its just something you’ve got to continue to carry over. … We’ve got to continue to press and impose our will and our athleticism against other teams.”
Okafor said the key for the Hornets will be to not let their guard down over a stretch of games against lesser clubs. Their first four victories during this streak were against teams with winning records, but now New Orleans will play the second of six straight contests against sub-.500 opponents.
“We had this stretch where we know we can take advantage of some teams and make sure we just stick to what we do,” Okafor said. “The chemistry is getting better, but we haven’t gotten there yet, but the key to the game is to say afloat to peak at the right time.”
While the Wizards (12-22) have the worst record in the Southeast, the Hornets are unlikely to overlook them after Washington surprised division-leading Orlando 104-97 on Friday.
The win was the Wizards’ second in seven games, and first since the indefinite suspension of Gilbert Arenas(notes) on Wednesday while under investigation by federal and local authorities for possible violations of the strict gun laws in the nation’s capital.
Arenas has acknowledged keeping guns in his locker at the Verizon Center and taking them out in a “misguided effort to play a joke” on a teammate.
Antawn Jamison(notes), who had 28 points and 11 rebounds, took the microphone before the game to address a sellout crowd. Referring to an incident during Tuesday’s warmups against Philadelphia when Arenas pointed his index fingers like guns at his teammates, who surrounded him in a circle and were laughing and smiling, Jamison said the team was “very embarrassed” and that they “never meant to make light of the situation.”
Coach Flip Saunders was pleased by the effort from his team, which rallied from 10 points down, and support from the crowd.
“It shows that people haven’t given up on this team,” he said, “and it shows the team hasn’t given up on themselves.”
The Wizards lost both games to the Hornets last season, but have won seven of the last nine matchups in Washington.