Hornets-Rockets Preview

Following two impressive wins, the New Orleans Hornets are
hoping to avoid a letdown during an easy stretch of their
schedule.

The Hornets head to the Toyota Center on Friday night in search
of a fifth consecutive win over the Southwest Division-rival
Houston Rockets in the first of four straight games against
opponents currently with losing records.

Three nights after a 96-87 win in Denver, New Orleans (23-16)
defeated Orlando 92-89 in overtime Wednesday thanks in part to a
surprising performance from reserve Marcus Thornton.

Thornton scored a season-high 22 points – including seven of the
Hornets’ 11 in the extra period. He had played sparingly in his
four previous contests, but was brought into the game after Marco
Belinelli sprained his right ankle just over a minute after
tipoff.

“Marcus came in and played phenomenal,” said center Emeka
Okafor, who had 18 points and 14 rebounds. “Marcus came in off the
bench and does what he does best, which is score.”

The Hornets, who rank second in the league with 92.2 points
allowed per game, held the Nuggets and Magic to a combined 39.8
percent shooting from the floor.

“Those are really good numbers but it’s something we can’t be
satisfied with because the problem we’ve had this year is we’ll
have a really good game like (Wednesday) night and then we’ll go to
Houston and not defend,” said assistant coach Mike Malone.

Chris Paul recorded 12 points and 13 assists against Orlando for
his 18th double-double. He has averaged 26.5 points in his last two
meetings with Houston.

David West has also enjoyed success versus the Rockets, against
whom he is averaging 26.8 points – 10.6 more than his career mark –
during his last five games. He scored a career-high 44 and Paul had
a triple-double with 16 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists in a
108-100 loss in Houston on Dec. 29, 2009.

Rookie coach Monty Williams was pleased with the victory over
the Magic, but wants to see his team display the same intensity
going forward.

“The test for us is winning a game like (the one against
Orlando) and then having the same sense of urgency if not more
going into these next games,” he said.

The Hornets visit Charlotte on Saturday before hosting Toronto
and Memphis.

New Orleans is averaging 107.8 points on 49.2 percent shooting
during its four-game run against Houston (17-22).

Belinelli, who has started all 39 games and is averaging a
career-high 11.0 points, is uncertain to play Friday.

Houston is hoping to get its leading scorer back after falling
118-112 to Oklahoma City on Wednesday with Kevin Martin on the
sidelines.

Martin, who averages 23.2 points per game, sat out his second
consecutive contest with a sore right wrist. His status for Friday
is unclear.

The Rockets are surrendering 108.8 points during a 2-7 stretch,
and the defensive woes are starting to take their toll.

“We don’t have a lot of margin for error,” said forward Luis
Scola, who scored 31 against the Thunder.

Scola is second on the team in scoring with 19.4 points per
game, but is averaging only 10.9 in 13 games against the
Hornets.

He scored only nine points, but pulled down 16 rebounds in the
Rockets’ 107-99 home loss to New Orleans on Nov. 3.

Houston has dropped three straight and four of five at home
after an eight-game run from Nov. 24-Dec, 27.