NEW ORLEANS – It’s probably a good thing New Orleans Hornets coach Monty Williams shaves his head.
“They’re turning all my hair gray,” Williams said of his Hornets.
That wasn’t the case for the first-year coach when the Hornets won 11 of their first 12 games. But deep down, Williams knew the Hornets weren’t as good as their record. Of course, he also didn’t expect them to lose nine of 12 – a stretch that ended with a franchise-record 23-point win over the Sacramento Kings followed by an impressive rout of the Utah Jazz.
When asked if it was fair to say the Hornets played over their head with the hot start, Williams said: “Fair? It was reality. …Playing over your head, I don’t have an issue with that. I have an issue with not giving that over-your-head effort every night. We’ve played over our heads and we’ve played under our butts the last 2½ weeks.”
Few people expected the Hornets to start the season so well considering they had a new coach and nine new players, including starters Trevor Ariza(notes) and Marco Belinelli(notes). They’ve also made two since the end of the preseason, including one for point guard Jarrett Jack(notes), who is struggling to adapt to a backup role behind Chris Paul(notes).
The Hornets piled up victories against Miami, Denver, Dallas and San Antonio during their 11-1 start. Toward the end of that stretch, Williams noticed the team getting a little too cocky for its own good. Opponents also adapted by shutting down the Hornets’ bench, defending forward David West(notes) with more size and trapping West and Paul.
An 18-point loss at Utah on Nov. 24 concerned Williams. But when the Spurs drilled visiting New Orleans 109-95 on Nov. 28, he knew his team had turned for the worse.
“I was upset at myself because I didn’t harp on the basics and fundamentals through the streak,” Williams said. “I waited on game seven or eight to get back to, ‘Hey, look, these are the things we need to get back to. We’re winning games, but we are not doing, X, Y and Z.’ And it bit us.”
Said Paul: “We are not the most talented team. We’re not the Boston Celtics or the Lakers. We got to play hard and we got to play smart. Some teams if they play hard, they’re going to win. We can play hard and play smart and we still might lose.”
The Hornets won’t blame their inconsistency on their uncertain ownership situation. The NBA just purchased the franchise from outgoing owner George Shinn in hopes of finding a local ownership group in New Orleans. If anything, the story has been a welcome distraction for the Hornets because it’s overshadowed their struggles.
“It’s not like they started shipping guys out of here,” Paul said. “It still says ‘New Orleans’ on the front of our uniforms, not ‘NBA.’ I haven’t noticed a change. When we are out here practicing and things like that, that’s the last thing on our minds.”
Paul thinks the Hornets can still become a strong team.
“The question is, are we going to commit to it?” he said. “We are a different team night to night. The good teams in this league give you a steady diet of something night to night.”
Love in L.A.?
Minnesota Timberwolves forward Kevin Love(notes) is averaging an NBA-best 15.6 rebounds along with 20.3 points. And his 31-point, 31-rebound game against the New York Knicks on Nov. 12 was the first 30-30 game since Moses Malone in 1982.
But that still hasn’t helped Love in All-Star balloting – he ranked 10th among Western Conference forwards with 81,865 votes in the first fan balloting returns.
Love will likely need to be voted by the West coaches as a reserve if the former UCLA star is to play in the All-Star Game in Los Angeles. But with competition from Kevin Durant(notes), Pau Gasol(notes), Carmelo Anthony(notes), Tim Duncan(notes), Dirk Nowitzki(notes), Lamar Odom(notes), Paul Millsap(notes) and Blake Griffin(notes), that won’t be easy.
Not to mention the Timberwolves have a 6-21 record.
“When you’re on a losing team it’s very tough,” Love said. “We are playing a lot better brand of basketball and putting ourselves in a position to win. But if we had a few more of those wins I’d be right there.
“If it were just on numbers, then yeah, I think I’d definitely have a shot at a spot.”
Love is generously listed at 6-foot-10 and isn’t the most athletic of players. So how has he become such a great rebounder?
“I just assume that everything is a miss,” Love said. “Another key is Bill Russell always said that 80 percent of rebounds are below the rim. You don’t have to be the most athletic or the tallest guy or the lengthiest guy in the world. For me it’s all mindset, assuming everything is a miss, playing every possession and every ball that goes up like it’s going to be mine.”
Sophomore struggles for Evans
Sacramento Kings guard Tyreke Evans(notes) missed just one game before returning to continue playing on his sore left foot. The plantar fasciitis Evans is now dealing with is related to a previous ankle injury.
While rest would seem to be the best treatment for Evans, he’d rather play with the pain in hope of trying to get the struggling Kings turned around.
“My mind is telling me that I can do certain moves, but my foot won’t let me,” Evans said. “Like on my layups I don’t have the same explosiveness as I used to. It’s a mind over matter thing.”
Evans hasn’t had much to celebrate since winning the Rookie of the Year award at the end of last season. In May, he was cited for reckless driving after being clocked speeding more than 130 miles per hour. A sprained ankle ruined his hopes of competing for a spot on the Team USA roster for the world championships. And after averaging 20.1 points as a rookie, Evans’ scoring average has dipped to less than 17 per game on a team that has the fewest wins in the NBA.
“That’s just part of life,” Evans said. “The injuries I can’t do nothing about. The speeding thing was a mistake. It’s over with. I look past it. Injuries are just part of basketball. I just have to take care of my body more.”