Raptors-Hornets Preview

While they missed a great opportunity to upset one of the NBA’s

best teams, the New Orleans Hornets continue to show


Returning home to face the slumping Toronto Raptors could help

the Western Conference’s last-place team get back into the win


The Hornets host their first game in more than two weeks

Wednesday night when they take on the Raptors for the only time in


After winning four of six heading into the All-Star break, New

Orleans (8-26) returned to action Tuesday, falling 99-95 at Chicago

to conclude its stretch of six straight road games with a 3-3

record. The Hornets grabbed a late lead with a 13-0 run, but were

outscored 8-0 in the final 1:26.

“We should have won that game,” coach Monty Williams said.

“You’ve got to close games like that out.”

New Orleans now open a stretch of three straight games at home,

where it hasn’t played since an 86-80 victory over Utah on Feb. 13

– a win that snapped a four-game home losing streak.

Shooting guard Marco Belinelli, a former Raptor, shot 54.0

percent and averaged 14.8 points during the Hornets’ just-completed

six-game trip, while point guard Greivis Vasquez averaged 11.7

points – more than four above his season average.

Belinelli, whom Toronto traded to New Orleans prior to the

2010-11 season in exchange for Julian Wright, totaled 15 points and

shot just 31.6 percent last season in his first two games versus

the Hornets since they dealt him. The Hornets and Raptors split the

season series, with the home team winning both contests.

The Raptors (10-24) have dropped 10 of 13 overall and four

straight away from home, including Tuesday’s 88-85 loss at


“I liked our effort and we competed as a team,” said coach

Dwane Casey, whose team can match last season’s road win total with

six despite its struggles. “Basketball plays and basketball

decisions have to get better.”

Having Andrea Bargnani in the lineup could give the Raptors a

better chance to win, but it’s uncertain if the high-scoring power

forward will return after missing 15 straight games and 21 of 23

with a calf injury.

Even without Bargnani, the Raptors’ frontcourt of James Johnson,

Amir Johnson and Aaron Gray won’t have to face Hornets forward Carl

Landry (left knee sprain) and center Jason Smith (concussion), as

Williams said both are a few days from returning.

Emeka Okafor (knee) is also not expected back after missing the

last seven games, but the Raptors could have their hands full with

center Chris Kaman, who is averaging 17.7 points and 9.3 rebounds

in Okafor’s absence.

Meanwhile, the Hornets must do their best to contain the Toronto

backcourt of DeMar DeRozan and Jose Calderon.

DeRozan is averaging 23.3 points – 7.5 more than his season mark

– over his last four games. He had a team-best 23 in the Raptors’

last game in New Orleans, an 85-81 loss Jan. 17, 2011.

Calderon, who went scoreless with 13 assists in that contest,

finished with team highs of 22 points and 16 assists in a 96-90

home win over the Hornets on March 1.