New Orleans coach Monty Williams wanted to make sure his team didn’t underestimate the struggling Houston Rockets.
So the first-year coach repeatedly asked his players how they would feel if they didn’t have a win this season.
The team used that mindset to remain unbeaten as Chris Paul scored 25 points, Marco Belinelli added 18 and the Hornets beat the winless Rockets 107-99 on Wednesday night.
”We talked about being desperate – as desperate as they are – before the game,” Williams said. ”Having a sense of urgency, going out there and executing your offense as if you were 0-3. I think our guys had that mentality tonight.”
The Hornets have won all four games this season to match the best start in franchise history. Houston dropped to 0-4.
Williams is happy with his team’s start, but knows it’s far too early to make too much out of it.
”It’s good to start 4-0, but with 78 more games to go we’re not going to be a team that allows our record to dictate how we play,” he said. ”We may raise some eyebrows, but we’re not in this to get excited or raise eyebrows. We want to continue to improve and we’ll start evaluating our goals after about 25-30 games.”
The game was tied in the fourth quarter before New Orleans scored four quick points to take a 95-91 lead. Kevin Martin made a 3-pointer to get Houston within one, but Paul and David West made consecutive baskets to stretch the lead to 99-94 with 39 seconds left.
Martin was called for an offensive foul, and the Rockets didn’t like the call. Aaron Brooks was given a double technical and ejected. Paul made both free throws to put the game out of reach.
”If we come out and run our game plan, we have a chance to win every game,” said Paul, who had eight assists, seven rebounds, four steals and one block. ”Definitely this is the best defensive team we’ve had since I’ve been here.”
Martin and Brooks both scored 18 points for Houston. Yao Ming added 15 in just under 21 1/2 minutes, while Luis Scola had nine points, 16 rebounds and five assists.
Houston coach Rick Adelman knows that turnovers and lack of big plays are hurting his team, but fixing the problems will probably take more than improving those two areas.
”There’s no easy answer,” he said. ”We just have to keep working at it until we break through.”
Yao said it is important for the team to remain positive if it wants to get on track.
”We have to learn the good things from the bad things,” he said. ”We need to figure out where we need to improve. It’s not too late to turn the season (around.)”
Houston was down by four before scoring five straight points, including a 3-pointer by Brooks that gave the Rockets an 89-88 lead with 3 1/2 minutes to play.
New Orleans regained the lead when Jordan Hill’s block of a shot by Marcus Thornton fell right into the hands of Jason Smith, who knocked down a jump shot. He made two more field goals sandwiched around a basket by Brooks to push the Hornets’ lead to 83-80 with about 7 minutes remaining.
The Hornets scored four of the first six points of the fourth quarter to push their lead to four before Chase Budinger hit consecutive baskets, the second a 3-pointer that brought the crowd to its feet and put Houston on top 78-77.
New Orleans trailed by two late in the third quarter, but Belinelli hit a 3-pointer to put the Hornets back ahead. Smith followed with two free throws before Courtney Lee got the Rockets within 72-71 with a jump shot.
D.J. Mbenga hit the first of two free throws after a foul by Kyle Lowry to leave New Orleans ahead 73-71 entering the final quarter.
The Rockets led by six at halftime and pushed their lead to 54-45 on a 3-pointer by Brooks early in the third. The Hornets responded with a 13-5 run highlighted by five points from Belinelli and capped by a three-point play by Trevor Ariza that gave them a 59-58 lead with 7 minutes left in the quarter.
Emeka Okafor had 15 points and nine rebounds for New Orleans and Smith finished with 14 points and nine rebounds.
NOTES: With no room left on the New Orleans bench, Paul was escorted to an area closer to fans to sit during his break in the fourth quarter. A couple of fans began to heckle him and take cell phone pictures of the star guard, who yelled back at the unruly fans. … New Orleans’ 43 first-half points were a season low for a Houston opponent.