NEW ORLEANS — The New Orleans Hornets are seeking to get off to a fast start to their final stretch of the season coming off the all-star break.
With 29 games remaining, the Hornets (19-34) have 17 games at home, starting at 7 p.m. Tuesday against the Chicago Bulls (30-22) at New Orleans Arena. It is the first of six games in nine days, four of which are at home. The Hornets play at the Cleveland Cavaliers on Wednesday night.
The Hornets won have won four of their past five games, including the last two before the break. Guard Eric Gordon, who sat out Wednesday’s win against Portland with a sprained right hand, practiced Monday and said he will play. He said he sprained the hand when he ran into a teammate during Wednesday’s shoot-around, calling it “a freak accident.”
Before the break, the Hornets were playing some of their best basketball of the season. Coach Monty Williams said the focus in practice Monday was to jar the team back into the focus of what they do after having had four days off.
“We did some good things before the break, but we’ve been a team that can’t rely on what little success we’ve had in the previous game or games,” he said. “We want to be ready because we are going against a pretty tough team.”
And one the Hornets have beaten, taking an 89-82 victory on Nov. 3 at Chicago in the third game of the season. The game was to be the first trip for Hornets No. 1 draft pick Anthony Davis to play against his hometown team. However, Davis had a mild concussion the previous night in the Hornets’ win over the Utah Jazz at the Arena and didn’t make the Chicago trip.
Ryan Anderson filled in for Davis as starter and led a concerted team effort with 12 points and 13 rebounds. The Hornets held the Bulls to 33.0 percent shooting and outrebounded Chicago 44-41, even though the Bulls had 15 offensive rebounds.
“That was one of those games that stands out because we just played very consistent through the whole game and our effort was there, mostly on the defensive end,” Anderson said.
The Hornets held Chicago to 18 points in the first quarter and 16 in the third in going to 2-1 on the season. They were above the .500 mark just one more time, on Nov. 9 after beating Charlotte.
The Bulls have played the entire season without former league MVP Derrick Rose, whose ACL was torn in last year’s playoffs. Speculation was that he might return for an end-of-season push to get ready for the playoffs, but he has said that is unlikely.
Led by small forward Luol Deng and center Joakim Noah, both of whom are all-stars, the veteran Bulls have pressed on and are second in the Central Division and fourth in the Eastern Conference playoff race.
Deng is averaging 16.9 points and 6.8 rebounds, plays excellent defense and is said to be the “glue” that has held the team together. Noah is averaging 11.8 points and 11.3 rebounds and is the anchor of the defense for Tom Thibodeau, whose system is rooted in defense.
However, Chicago has lost five of its past seven and is coming off a 71-69 loss at Boston on Feb. 13 in which the Celtics scored just 11 points in the second quarter and eight in the third, breaking loose with 28 in the fourth.
The Cavaliers also lost in their previous outing, 96-95 against San Antonio on Feb. 13 at Cleveland, when Spurs small forward Kawhi Leonard sank a 3-pointer with 2.9 seconds left. The Cavs had led 93-90 with 1:48 remaining.
The game against the Hornets is the Cavaliers’ first since then and is the last of a seven-game homestand, in which they have gone 3-3. The Cavs feature former Hornets coach Byron Scott, as well as point guard Kyrie Irving, the No. 1 pick in the 2011 draft. An all-star in his second season, he is averaging 23.5 points on 46.6 percent shooting and 5.5 assists. Going against Parker and the Spurs, though, he scored six points on 2-of-15 shooting.
Behind Irving, the Cavaliers like to get out and run. Cleveland is fifth in the NBA in forcing opponents turnovers (15.8 per game) and is eighth in the league in points off turnovers (17.8).