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New Orleans Hornets Stay Red Hot, Shoot Down Rockets 88-79

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COMMENTARY | Yesterday, I wrote an article asking if the New Orleans Hornets could still make the playoffs this year. Although that would be a monumental task, the Hornets are playing like one of the best teams in the NBA. On Wednesday night, New Orleans won its third straight, vanquishing yet another Southwest Division foe. The Hornets ended the Houston Rockets' five-game winning streak with an 88-79 comeback win.

I remember earlier this season when the Hornets were one of the worst defensive teams in the NBA. This was totally uncharacteristic of a Monty Williams coached team. Injuries, mental breakdowns, and an apparent lack of speed contributed to the Hornets' porous defense.

But in a short time, New Orleans has vaulted all the way up to 17th in the NBA in points allowed. As a fan, I couldn't wait for Wednesday's game versus the Rockets. Scoring 106.8 points per game, the Rockets entered tonight's contest as the top scoring team in the NBA. In fact, the Rockets scored 125 points against the Los Angeles Lakers in their previous game.

Unfortunately, one thing that hasn't changed for the Hornets lately is their poor third quarters. The Rockets extended their 36-34 halftime lead to 69-59 with 33 points in the third period. But New Orleans looked possessed in the fourth quarter. Somehow, the Hornets held the high-powered Rockets to 10 points in the last 12 minutes.

Lately, the Hornets seem to have a killer instinct in the fourth quarter. There is no denying that New Orleans has improved tremendously late in games since the return of Eric Gordon. Even when Gordon has an off night like he did against the Rockets with only five points, he still draws the attention of the defense away from the other Hornets. Tonight, Roger Mason was on fire off the bench with 17 points on 6-7 shooting in only 16 minutes played.

Any NBA team can occasionally upset an elite team. But three wins in a row, all against Southwest Division teams, is not a fluke. The Hornets are now healthy, confident, and recommitted to playing defense. I still can't decide if New Orleans holding the Rockets to 46 fewer points than they scored against the Lakers says more about my favorite NBA team or my least favorite NBA team.

The lack of national media attention and no respect that the Hornets receive make it likely that New Orleans will continue to sneak up on quality NBA teams like the Rockets. The return of Eric Gordon means more assists for Greivis Vasquez, more open looks for Ryan Anderson, and no pressure on Anthony Davis.

I could be wrong, but I expect the Hornets' three-game winning streak to keep increasing for a few more games.

Patrick Michael was born in New Orleans and currently resides in the Big Easy. A loyal New Orleans NBA fan, Patrick was a diehard New Orleans Jazz fan and now cheers for the Hornets. Patrick was in attendance the night the Hornets were one win away from the Western Conference Finals. Follow Patrick Michael on Twitter at patmichael84.

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