NEW ORLEANS — After Wednesday’s uplifting home victory against the Phoenix Suns, it’s back on the road for the New Orleans Hornets.
It’s a victory the Hornets are hoping proves to be much like a tuneup or alignment as they get set to play three games in four nights, starting Friday night in Atlanta. New Orleans got results playing its style, with gritty defense that helped create crisp offense behind a sterling performance by point guard Greivis Vasquez.
And, it’s a performance the Hornets hope they can take with them against the Hawks, followed by games at Toronto on Sunday and Detroit on Monday.
“We just want to play tough basketball,” coach Monty Williams said. “We want to go out on the road and not just take what we did in that game (Wednesday); we want to take what we did in practice the two days before and in the second half (against Phoenix). We’d like to have that kind of intensity on the road.
“For whatever reason, in the past couple of games, we just didn’t have it on the road.”
The Hawks (27-21), in particular, can be expected to be a stern test. The teams met on New Year’s night at New Orleans Arena, and Atlanta won, 95-86. The most vivid memory from that game was Hawks power forward Josh Smith and center Al Horford being a difficult matchup for the Hornets because of their versatility.
Smith, with the skills of a small forward, created problems with his ball-handling, shooting and the ability to drive to the basket and also run the pick and roll.
Horford also was effective with his outside shooting and rolls to the basket. During a key part of the fourth quarter, he positioned himself 12 to 15 feet from the basket on the baseline and befuddled the Hornets (16-33) with jump shots, drives and passes.
The duo combined for 43 points and 16 rebounds, and Smith also had four blocks and seven assists
“Josh can fill up a stat sheet, and Horford is an All-Star who can score inside and outside,” Williams said. “They certainly can’t have the type of games they had last time if we are to win. We have to realize they are great players and respect them.”
According to power forward Ryan Anderson, that means the Hornets will rely more on team defense this time instead of individual matchups.
Anderson, who plays a lot in his role as the team’s sixth-man spark, could spend time head-to-head against Smith.
“I went against those guys a lot when I was with Orlando, so it would not be new to me,” Anderson said. “But we’ve got to do some things as a team, some double-teams and what have you, and stay true to our principles.”
The Hornets are catching Smith and Horford at a time in which both are playing particularly well. And, add in Jeff Teague, who continues to improve as the Hawks’ point guard.
In the past seven games, Smith has averaged 19.1 points — up from his 16.7 season’s average — on 49.6 percent shooting. Horford has scored 19.4 (season average 15.9) on 59.0 percent shooting. Teague has done even better, with 20.2 points, six points higher than his average, on 54.7 percent shooting and 7.5 assists per game. Although the Hawks are just 8-11 in 2013, they are 5-3 in their past eight games.
Williams said Smith and Horford’s scoring is just the surface of it which may make double-teaming a difficult proposition. Atlanta is third in the NBA in assists per game (23.7) and fourth in 3-point shooting percentage (38.1), with seven Hawks shooting better than 35 percent from long distance, led by starting guard Kyle Korver’s astounding 46.4, which leads the league.
“(Smith and Horford) are good passing bigs, and it opens up things for the rest of them,” Williams said.
The Hawks are without guard Louis Williams. Williams, who at 6-foot-1 is quick and a good shooter, tore an ACL on Jan. 18 against Brooklyn and is out for the season.
Anderson in 3-point contest
Hornets forward Ryan Anderson was selected to compete in the 3-point shooting contest during the NBA All-Star Weekend on Feb. 15 in Houston.
Anderson leads the NBA with 147 made 3-pointers, while shooting 43.7 percent.
It will be the second straight year Anderson will compete in the event. He did not make it out of the first round in last year’s competition, while he played for the Orlando Magic.