This was supposed to be a brutal stretch of the schedule for the New Orleans Hornets.
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Instead, David West and fellow starters have spent back-to-back nights kicking back on the bench in the fourth quarter, smiling as reserves close out double-digit routs of the playoff-contending Atlanta Hawks and the NBA-leading San Antonio Spurs.
West had 18 points and 10 rebounds in less than 30 minutes, and the Hornets earned their eighth consecutive victory while ending San Antonio’s eight-game winning streak, 96-72 on Saturday night.
”I don’t think we expected the games to be like this,” West said. ”But we’ve been having some good film sessions, having really good dialogue and talking amongst ourselves about what we’re going to do and how we’re going to defend teams.”
One night after winning by 41 at Atlanta, the Hornets led by as many as 31 against a Spurs team that has the NBA’s best record (37-7), but which has also lost twice to New Orleans (29-16).
The Hornets entered the game with an NBA-low 91.4 points allowed per game and only strengthened their claim as the best defensive team in the league by holding San Antonio to a season-low in points.
”It shows a little consistency,” said Emeka Okafor, who had 12 rebounds and five of the Hornets’ eight blocks. ”We’re on a little bit of a tear here. These two commanding wins we’ve had adds some validity to it.”
Including their 100-59 victory over the Hawks, the Hornets have now held consecutive teams to 72 or fewer points for the first time in franchise history.
The Hornets’ offense wasn’t bad, either.
Marcus Thornton and Trevor Ariza each hit all four 3-pointers they took as the Hornets set a season high with 12 3s. Thornton finished with 18 points and Ariza 15. Chris Paul had 11 points six assists and six rebounds in 30:36, playing the most of any starter.
Tony Parker’s 10 points made him the only double-digit scorer among the Spurs starters, who spent much of the second half on the bench.
”New Orleans played fantastic defense – physical, physical, well-executed defense,” said Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, who spent much of the game grimacing with arms folded, but after smiled warmly and hugged his protege, Hornets rookie coach Monty Williams.
”When you combine that with fine shooting, you’re in for a hell of a night. They were wonderful.”
The Hornets, who have won 11 of 13, have their second eight-game winning streak of the season, marking the first time in franchise history they’ve had two streaks that long in one season.
It is also the NBA’s longest active streak. The Spurs entered the game with that distinction, but lost it with their worst loss this season.
San Antonio, which shot 36.2 percent (25 of 69) against New Orleans, had not been held below 85 points previously this season and had not lost by more than 22.
”You have to give them credit for their defense,” Spurs forward Tim Duncan said. ”They were very good tonight and they did not give us a lot of stuff. On top of that, we missed a lot of shots.”
After a closely contested first half, the Hornets blew the game open by outscoring the Spurs 31-10 in the third quarter. San Antonio’s point total for the period was the lowest of any Hornets opponent in any quarter this season.
After Parker’s jumper got San Antonio as close as 42-40, the Spurs went the next 7:32 without scoring. The Hornets scored 21 unanswered points during that stretch, including 10 by West on three jumpers, a breakaway dunk set up by Ariza’s steal and a tip-in.
Ariza had two 3s during the surge and there were defensive highlights as well, including Okafor’s two blocks on Tiago Splitter in one possession that ended with a shot-clock violation and brought the sellout crowd to its feet.
The Spurs had another shot-clock violation on their next possession, after which West had a tip-in to make it 64-42. Paul’s soaring floater off the glass made it 66-42 to cap the run, but the Hornets’ lead grew to 87-56.
When it was over, Williams sought to keep his player mindful of how a couple of blowout wins could lead to complacency – and losing – if they weren’t careful. On Monday, the Hornets play their third playoff contender in four nights when Oklahoma City comes to town.
”We can’t be satisfied,” Williams said. ”I know everybody is going to be talking about how the Hornets beat the best team in the league and making a lot out of that, but we haven’t beaten Oklahoma City in the regular season or the preseason.We have to maintain our focus and our discipline.”
Notes: The teams will not meet again this season. The season series finished tied 2-2. … Announced attendance was 18,023, meaning a crowd of 11,758 or larger on Monday night will void a clause in the team’s arena lease that would allow the club to move after this season.