NEW ORLEANS (AP)—Thanks to dramatically improved defense, the unbeaten New Orleans Hornets are a totally different team from last season. So are the Portland Trail Blazers, with All-Star guard Brandon Roy(notes) rendered ineffective by a chronically sore left knee.
The Hornets have held all of their opponents this season under 100 points. This was the third straight time New Orleans allowed fewer than 90 points.
New coach Monty Williams, a Portland assistant the previous five years, has done an immediate makeover of what was one of the NBA’s worst defensive teams last season.
“Defense is where we want to make our staple,” West said. “We are really drilling and really working and doing what we have to do in terms of preparation. We’ve been able to execute the game plan defensively from start to finish.”
Roy limped to the locker room with 6:43 left in the third quarter. He missed his first six shots and did not score until the third period, shortly before exiting for good.
Roy said earlier this week he would not opt for surgery and would play through the pain, but he could not finish against the Hornets.
“He told me his knee was sore, and he needed to be pulled,” Portland coach Nate McMillan said. “He’ll be evaluated here and we’ll wait and see what happens.”
Portland cut a 17-point deficit to 75-70 early in the fourth quarter, but New Orleans responded with a 16-5 run to put the game away.
New Orleans was in control almost all the way, placing seven scorers in double figures and quickly answering Portland’s surge spanning the end of the third quarter and the start of the fourth.
Hornets reserve Willie Green(notes), averaging 7.3 points through seven games, almost matched that output in two minutes after Portland pulled within 75-70. He converted a drive into a 3-point play, hit a layup off a turnover and made an outside jumper to give the Hornets an 84-73 lead.
“I just wanted to attack,” Green said. “I just have to stay ready and be aggressive. I never know when I’m going to get in or what situation we’re going to be in when I get in the game.”
Belinelli sealed the victory with two 3-pointers after Portland climbed with 91-81 on a 3 by Batum.
The Hornets had 11 assists and only one turnover in the first half, taking a 10-point lead on Stojakovic?s 3-pointer with 8:47 left in the second quarter and maintaining the double-digit advantage for the rest of the half. Stojakovic hit another 3 to make the score 38-23 and New Orleans was ahead by as many as 17 points.
It was Stojakovic?s first extended minutes after missing five of the Hornets’ first seven games. His 11 points were one more than he had in his two previous games combined.
“I saw a diagram on TV the other night and it listed the best shooters in the history of the game, and Peja was on that list,” Williams said. “It just kind of shocked me. He can shoot in his sleep. For him to come off the bench like that and help us was huge.”
The Hornets, who entered as the NBA leader in scoring defense, held the Trail Blazers to 35 points on 14-of-41 shooting in the first half. Miller was 6 of 7 from the field but got no help from his teammates, who were 8 of 34.
“We got off to a slow start and this is two games in a row that has happened,” McMillan said. “We need to put together 48 minutes of good basketball.”
“It’s the defense every night,” Ariza said. “It’s been the key for us. It helps us make op for the mistakes we make on offense. We’ve got players here that can score. To do what we’re trying to do, we have to get it done on the defensive end.”
Notes: The Hornets had lost their previous three home games to the Blazers. Portland has lost five of eight after starting 3-0. Paul became New Orleans’ all-time leader in free throw attempts with his 1,963rd try. Counting two wins at the end of last year, New Orleans tied a franchise record with its 10th consecutive win.