Leap Year Day - New Orleans Hornets
While they missed a great opportunity to upset one of the NBA's best teams, the New Orleans Hornets continue to show improvement.
Returning home to face the slumping Toronto Raptors could help the Western Conference's last-place team get back into the win column.
The Hornets host their first game in more than two weeks Wednesday night when they take on the Raptors for the only time in 2011-12.
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 Houston.
"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.
New Orleans have been playing better of late with half their season win total coming in the last 10 games - still nothing to write home about. They are coming off a tough loss to Chicago.
Toronto and New Orleans are the only 2 bottom feeders who are actually decent on defense. I think both teams turn their fortunes around sooner than later. Monty Williams appears to be a good coach who got stuck in a tough situation with CP3 and is coping with the challenge of a weak roster. New Orleans have made some crafty pick ups of late though with Henry and Vasquez being solid additions moving forward.
Former Raptor alert: Belinelli and Jack. Selfishly I hope Marco goes off - not because I like him but because I picked him up in Fantasy ball this week. I hope Jarrett Jack learned a lesson from his recent Twitter exchange with Derrick Williams (that has nothing to do with this game but the rook owned the 'sage' veteran in the exchange - it is worth looking in to).
In the race for lottery balls, Ryan Wolstat offers a fitting tweet:
Ryan Wolstat @WolstatSun
Love New Orleans. The cabbie I had this morning? Not so much. Heading to arena shortly. Somebody's got to win this one!