Williams wants Hornets to regain toughness
Monty Williams figured a good way to stop the Hornets' current tailspin would be to show them how they were dominated by Minnesota's Kevin Love and see if they could mimic Love's style of play in Tuesday's practice.
''He plays the right way. He hits people, he cheats and they don't call it, so he keeps doing it and I just think that's the way the game is played,'' Williams began. ''If the referees called everything ... it would take four-and-a-half hours to play a basketball game. So I think the guy who hits first and hits for a long time wins the game.''
The Hornets, who a little over a week ago were riding a 10-game winning streak that briefly took them as high as third place in the Western Conference, have now lost three straight and five of six. The latest loss was among the most humbling, a 104-92 defeat at the hands of a Timberwolves squad on Monday night that owns the worst record in the West and which had arrived in the Big Easy with only two road wins this season.
Love had 27 points and 17 rebounds in the game, making easy work of a Hornets defense that ranks second in the NBA in scoring defense (92.04 points per game) but which has slipped lately, allowing more than 100 points in each of their last five losses.
So on Tuesday, Williams held a vigorous practice in which he described a lot of ''chirping'' and ''guys getting hit.''
''We had a practice today that I think will help us in the future,'' he said.
During four of those losses, the Hornets have been without starting center Emeka Okafor (left oblique strain). They also lost starting small forward Trevor Ariza (right ankle sprain) three losses ago at Oklahoma City. The two injured starters also are two of the best defenders on the team.
Okafor expects his injury will sideline him for close to three weeks. Ariza did some shooting on Tuesday but did not jump and is unlikely to play on Wednesday night in New Jersey, Williams said.
Williams and All-Star guard Chris Paul insisted that while Okafor and Ariza are missed, that alone does not explain their recent skid, or how the struggling Timberwolves shot 50 percent on Monday night.
''Everybody knows what our defensive principles are,'' Paul said. ''When those guys are out, other guys got opportunities and we've got to step up. ... It probably has something to do with energy, execution, teams being a little bit more aggressive than us. Some nights teams are going to make shots when you play great defense.''
The Hornets (32-21) remain firmly in the hunt for a playoff spot despite their recent slide and Williams said that while he's certain general manager Dell Demps is exploring ways to improve the club, the team as it is currently made up cannot afford to get distracted by the potential for roster moves.
''There's no guarantee we're going to make the playoffs,'' Williams said. ''I'm trying to get our guys to understand that we have to go out and make it - and this team is the team I'm committed to. I can't worry about what-ifs and trade scenarios and speculation. I've just been around long enough to know that stuff's too hard to do. This is the team I'm committed to and that's why we work as hard as we do.''
At times the Hornets have been surprisingly good, opening on an eight-game winning streak and winning 11 of their first 12 games before a slide that lasted from late November through mid-December. They then had their longest winning streak of the year before their current lapse.
The upcoming schedule isn't exactly easy. After playing the Nets, the Hornets visit Orlando, host Chicago, then go back to the West Coast to play Golden State and Portland before a return home to face the Los Angeles Clippers.
''Right now our season seems like a roller-coaster,'' Paul said. ''It has its highs and its lows and we've got to find a way to be balanced. ... We're going to be fine, but we can't let this linger. We've got to really make a strong push going into this All-Star break.''