WESTWEGO — It looks like a bad time for the New Orleans Hornets to hit the road.
Coach Monty Williams’ team seems to be having an identity crisis, struggling to regain its execution, effectiveness and confidence as the defense-first team that is its foundation as it begins a five-game road trip today at Memphis.
Also, the Hornets (14-29) are coming off consecutive losses for the first time since Jan. 2, a span of 11 games, for a team that had experienced very lean times before getting back guard Eric Gordon and backup center/power forward Jason Smith from injuries, increasing its level of intensity and riding a wave of newfound offense.
And, its fiery point guard, Greivis Vasquez, perhaps the team’s unsung hero because of his determination and aggressiveness, is coming off a game in which he was ineffective after losing his composure in Friday night’s frustrating loss to the Houston Rockets at New Orleans Arena.
However, like that candy bar commercial — Wanna get away? — Williams said it’s a great time to hit the road, even though that means less practice time to correct what ails his team.
“I think the road is a good place for us right now,” Williams said. “I love my guys. I like being around them, I like coaching them, and if I have to be away from my family, this is the group I want to be with.
“They want (to win); they don’t always know how to get it. I’m sure they are going to do some things on their own (on the trip). We won’t have much practice time, because we’ll have a back-to-back, but we’ve won when we just simply rested.”
Williams, however, went over defense with his team after the Rockets became the fifth opponent in seven games to post 100 points. As much as that might seem a cause for alarm, he said rectifying that won’t require big changes or a shakeup.
“Everybody’s got to get better at doing the things we typically do,” he said. “We have to guard the ball. We have to have a better weakside presence. We have to rebound. A lot of times, we get a stop but we’re not rebounding, so that just gives (opponents) an extra possession.
“When you don’t have supreme talent, you have to do the little things better than everybody else, and that’s where we are right now.”
And waiting are the Grizzlies (28-14), who are second in the Southwest Division and have won four of five games after losing three in a row at Dallas, versus the Clippers and at division-leading San Antonio.
Of concern are points in the lane. The Hornets gave up 66 at San Antonio with point guard Tony Parker having his way. Then, on Friday, the penetration of Houston guards James Harden and Jeremy Lin was a factor in the Rockets’ one-sided victory.
Memphis brings another dynamic with the low-post scoring of Zach Randolph and the overall effectiveness of center Marc Gasol in the lane. However, Grizzlies point guard Mike Conley makes the team go, Williams said.
“I think he’s one of the more underrated players in the league,” he said. “Anytime you play Memphis, you’re worried about the post-ups, you’re worried about Conley on pick and rolls. (Forward) Rudy Gay can penetrate and score in a number of ways.
“You’re talking about one of the best teams in the (Western Conference), so they have a number of ways to kick your butt. You have to make sure you’re sound on defense. When we’ve had success against them, we’ve made it an ugly game.”
Vasquez had an ugly game against Houston, scoring just two points on 1-of-6 shooting with six assists in 24 minutes of playing time. He seemed frustrated by the play of the Rockets guards and the calls and lack of calls by the officials. But he and Williams said he’ll be OK.
“It was just one of those games you have every now and then in a long season,” he said heading into the game against the Grizzlies, his former team. “I understand why I was benched. I was not effective. So, I’m looking forward to having a lot of fun against the Grizzlies.”
After Sunday’s game, the Hornets play at the Lakers and Utah on Tuesday and Wednesday, then play at Denver and Minnesota on Friday and Saturday.