NEW ORLEANS — Brian Roberts went home late Monday night and thought about his performance in near disbelief after he paced the New Orleans Hornets to a victory over Denver that snapped the Nuggets’ 15-game winning streak.
Having been around coach Monty Williams a whole season now, Roberts put it behind by Tuesday morning’s practice, although media interviews kept reminding him of his 18 assists.
Next up for Roberts, an NBA rookie point guard with European basketball experience, is a supreme challenge. The Hornets face the Los Angeles Clippers on Wednesday night, and that means going against All-NBA, Olympic gold medal point guard Chris Paul, who is returning to where he starred with his first team.
Hornets starting point guard Greivis Vasquez and shooting guard Eric Gordon missed Monday’s game with left-ankle ailments, and it is not known if they will be able to play Wednesday, although Vasquez was to have X-rays Tuesday.
The Hornets are seeking their fourth consecutive victory, which would tie a season high, and fourth consecutive home win, which would extend their current season-high.
“It’s another challenge for me and the team to bounce back and win four straight,” said Roberts, who would be making just his third NBA start. “(The Clippers) are going to come out with a lot of energy, and (Paul) is coming back to where he played a few years. That’s going to be part of the whole spectacle, but we’ve got to be focused and look at it as another opportunity to get better.”
If the Hornets play like they did Monday night, at least offensively, the game could be a spectacle. The Hornets had 30 assists on 41 baskets, and the Clippers lead the league in assists, led by Paul’s 9.7 per game, which ranks second in the league.
He leads the league in assists-to-turnover ratio, a measuring stick for point guards, at 4.35-to-1. A ratio of 3.0-to-1 is considered good.
Keeping Paul from turning New Orleans Arena into “Lob City,” which is what the Clippers are called with him leading the way, will be a big challenge, Roberts acknowledged.
“The Nuggets play at a faster pace, but the Clippers just have guys who know what to do in transition,” he said. “They know where they need to be and that Chris is going to find them.
“The biggest concern is keeping him out of the lane and trying to make it hard for him coming off pick and rolls. He’s such a crafty and shifty player, and he’s seen a lot. He’s a pretty good defender, getting steals, so attacking him and making him play on the other end is also going to help.”
What also might help the Hornets is that the Clippers, who were 48-22 heading into Tuesday night’s game at Dallas, will be playing the second of back-to-back games. That might not mean as much as it would to other NBA teams, though.
“They are so much deeper than most teams that we play against,” said Williams, when asked what was his biggest concern against the Clippers. “(Center) DeAndre (Jordan) and (power forward) Blake (Griffin) are playing at a high level, and Chris can manage and dominate a game on both sides of the court. (Small forward) Caron Butler will probably win Sixth Man of the Year.
“They have a number of things you have to worry about, and they’re hungry. When you’re playing a team like that, you’ve got to be running on all cylinders.”
The Clippers also have reason to be highly motivated. Most important, they are in a battle for the fourth playoff spot, which carries home-court advantage in the first round, with the Nuggets and Memphis Grizzlies.
The Clippers, who lost to the Mavericks 109-102 in overtime Tuesday, are nearly there in the chase to make franchise history. Already having set a record for wins in a row (17), victories in a month (16 in December), and home wins in a row (13), the Clippers are on the brink of surpassing the franchise record of 49 wins set in the 1974-75 season.
With a record of 20-14 away from home, they need one win to clinch the franchise’s first winning road record. They need four victories to notch the first division championship in Clippers history.
The teams have split two games, both in Los Angeles, with the Hornets winning with a barrage of 3-pointers on Nov. 26, and Paul pacing a victory on Dec. 19. The teams’ final meeting is April 12 at the Arena.