Hornets-Bobcats Preview

A disappointing December somewhat diminished the New Orleans
Hornets’ brilliant start and had the team on the verge of falling
out of the top eight in the Western Conference.

They have quickly regrouped.

Coming off an impressive comeback victory, the Hornets look to
win for the seventh time in nine games Saturday night when they
visit the Charlotte Bobcats.

Things weren’t looking good for New Orleans (24-16) at Houston
on Friday, with a 16-point deficit in the final minute of the third
quarter, but the Hornets came charging back to win 110-105 in
overtime. David West had 29 points and former Bobcats center Emeka
Okafor finished with 17 points and 15 rebounds for New Orleans,
which has won three straight – the last two in OT – and six of
eight.

“For maybe 40 minutes of that game, we didn’t play our
basketball,” said Chris Paul, who had a quiet night, finishing with
11 points, eight assists and five turnovers, “but it showed a lot
that we got stops when we needed to and made big plays when we had
to.”

The Hornets struggled a bit defensively against the Rockets
before clamping down in the final period, forcing them to miss 13
of 18 fourth-quarter shots.

New Orleans, which is second in the league in scoring defense at
92.5 points per game – and 19-1 when limiting opponents to 93
points or fewer – came up with a similar late defensive stand in
its first meeting with the Bobcats.

In New Orleans on Dec. 1, the Hornets went on an 18-4 run in the
fourth quarter to turn what had been a close game with 16 lead
changes into an 89-73 victory. West finished with 22 points and
Paul had nine points and 14 assists for New Orleans, which is
trying to sweep the season series from Charlotte for the first time
since 2007-08.

The Hornets are also trying to win four straight games for the
first time since opening the season 8-0. New Orleans won 11 of its
first 12 games, but that was followed by a 7-13 stretch that
dropped it just 1 1/2 games ahead of eighth-place Portland. The
Hornets are now in sixth place, four games clear of the West’s
final playoff spot.

The Bobcats (15-22) are percentage points behind Philadelphia
for eighth place in the East.

Charlotte is coming off a 99-94 loss at Boston on Friday that
snapped a season-best four-game winning streak. The Bobcats trailed
by two with just over eight minutes to go, but the Celtics scored
11 of the next 13 points and Charlotte couldn’t recover.

“Mentally we’ve got to come with it a little bit more,” interim
coach Paul Silas said. “It’s a mental game. That’s what I told
those guys – 90 percent of it is mental and we are just not there
yet.”

Gerald Wallace, playing in his second straight game Friday after
sitting out nine of the previous 11 because of a left ankle injury,
led Charlotte with 20 points, while D.J. Augustin added 19.
Augustin is averaging 19.8 points in his last nine games – 5.4
better than his season average.

The Bobcats hope to bounce back in Charlotte, where they’ve won
three straight and nine of 13.

The Hornets have been tough on their opponents’ home courts,
however, having won four of five on the road after dropping nine of
their previous 10 away from New Orleans.