Hornets concerned about stumbling into playoffs
After exceeding expectations for much of the season, the Hornets hoped to roll into the playoffs looking sharp.
Instead, consecutive double-digit losses have players like veteran guard Willie Green talking about ''soul-searching.''
The Hornets have one regular season game left at Dallas on Wednesday, and if they lose that, they'll not only head into the postseason on a three-game skid, but also could be the eighth-seeded team in the Western Conference.
That would set up a first-round matchup with top-seeded San Antonio.
In some respects, playing the Spurs, whom the Hornets have beaten twice this season, might be preferable to a first-round pairing with the Los Angeles Lakers, who defeated the Hornets in all four meetings.
Yet, unlike the Boston Celtics, who've been resting stars as the regular season winds down, the Hornets say they've been trying to do whatever it takes win the past two games and only rested starters in a 22-point loss at Memphis on Sunday night when the game degenerated into blowout in the fourth quarter.
''We're definitely not trying to set up a matchup with a certain team,'' Green said. ''Our goal is to go out every game and win. Unfortunately it didn't look like that from the outside looking in.''
When leading scorer David West went down with a season-ending left knee injury late in a close game at Utah last month, the Hornets rallied to win in overtime, then won five of their next seven contests to clinch a playoff spot with four games to spare.
At that point, Williams praised his team's resilience in the face of a handful of challenges throughout the season, including their adjustment to both a new coaching staff and an overhauled roster that now has 10 new players on it. In addition, there were several off-the-court distractions, including the NBA's purchase of the club, the death of Green's sister in a traffic accident and guard Jarrett Jack's drunken driving arrest.
Then came West's injury, depriving the Hornets of a locker room leader who was averaging 18.9 points and 7.6 rebounds.
Now the Hornets' defense seems to have deserted them. After yielding 111 points in their loss at Memphis, they allowed Utah to shoot better than 55 percent on Monday in a 90-78 loss during which the Hornets never led and trailed by as 17.
For much of the season, New Orleans has won with defense. Even after their past two losses, the Hornets were fourth in the NBA in points allowed at 93.7 per game and tied for 10th in opponent field goal percentage at .456.
''It's about our defense,'' point guard Chris Paul said. ''Even when we don't score points, the thing that has been our backbone all season is defending and that's what we're not doing right now.
''When you get into the playoffs, you have to make (opponents) miss shots,'' Paul added. ''You can't hope they miss. You have to make them miss.''
Williams said he would try to ''be smart'' about how much he plays his starters in Dallas, but still hopes to see his club look far more competitive. While seeding likely will still be at stake on Wednesday night, Williams essentially said worrying about that now would be a waste of time.
All of the top four teams in the Western Conference will finish with at least 55 victories, Williams noted, ''So you're not going to play against a JV team.''
''You're going to get a team that's peaking,'' Williams continued. ''Their rotations are going to be shorter, so you're going to play against level one guys for 40 minutes. We need our level one guys to step up and play for 48 minutes.''