NEW ORLEANS — The New Orleans Hornets are off to a good start on the road again.
The last time they ventured out, they started the same way, with a victory, beating Memphis on Jan. 27. However, the Hornets lost their next four before returning home and defeating the Phoenix Suns on Wednesday.
Now, after an impressive win at Atlanta on Friday night, the Hornets look to stretch their winning streak to three when they play at Toronto on Sunday. The Hornets end this road trip Monday at Detroit, which features New Orleans native Greg Monroe, then come home for a game Wednesday against Portland before taking off for the All-Star Weekend break.
Finishing this road trip strongly would be a great way to head into that break, and that appears to be something on which point guard Greivis Vasquez is intent, judging by his recent performances.
In the past two games, Vasquez has had 40 points, 24 assists, 12 rebounds, four steals and just four turnovers in leading the Hornets to victories as he continues his quest to develop into one of the league’s best point guards.
“I’m not satisfied; I want to do it night-in, night-out,” Vasquez said after the Phoenix and Atlanta games.
More important, after an embarrassing showing at Minnesota in the Hornets’ last road game before this trip, there has been a renewed vigor in the games after two training camp-type practices served to refocus the team on it values of tough defense and grind-it-out basketball.
“When we play tough and play with the mindset that we have to fight and bump people, we’re a better team,” said Vasquez, who averages 9.4 assists per game, one-tenth of a point behind second-place Chris Paul.
The Hornets will be facing a team Sunday that has been invigorated by the trade that sent the Raptors prototype small forward Rudy Gay from the Memphis Grizzlies. Toronto (18-32) is just 1-3 since obtaining Gay a week ago, the lone victory an encouraging one Friday night at the Indiana Pacers, who lead the Central Division and were 20-3 at home.
Gay stole an inbounds pass that set up the score that sent the game into overtime, then made the winning shot with 1.7 seconds left in OT.
Gay gives the Raptors an elite-level player to go along with young shooting guard DeMar DeRozan, another excellent athlete who sometimes approaches that elite level.
The Raptors defeated the Hornets 100-98 in overtime in New Orleans, as DeRozan scored 30 points, including a key steal and dunk late. Point guard Kyle Lowry had 17 points and eight assists and made a game-clinching 3-pointer at the end of overtime.
For the third consecutive game, the schedule has permitted the Hornets to have shooting guard Eric Gordon in the lineup, and he usually provides a lift. Gordon has missed the second of back-to-back games since returning Dec. 29 from a patella disorder. The Hornets are 11-10 since he returned but are 10-7 in games in which he has played.
Against the Pistons, a matchup that may bear watching is that of Hornets center Robin Lopez against Monroe. Monroe, who was drafted as a big man with skills and finesse, nonetheless likes to overpower opponents.
That was the case Friday night against the San Antonio Spurs’ Tiago Splitter, as Monroe went for 26 points and 16 rebounds, including five offensive, as the Pistons won in a game in which the Spurs’ Tim Duncan, who is resting a knee injury, and Manu Ginobili sat out.
Monroe is averaging 16.1 points and 9.5 rebounds. Lopez has played well of late, averaging 13.7 points on 65 percent shooting and 6.3 rebounds in his past seven games.
This will be the Hornets’ first game of the season against the Pistons, who were 2-3 in their past five games heading into Saturday’s game against Milwaukee.