(AP) — The New Orleans Hornets pride themselves on defense, but that has been a major problem over the last week.
Facing a struggling New Jersey Nets team that has issues on offense could be just what the Hornets need to get back on track.
New Orleans looks to shore up its defensive woes and avoid losing four straight for the first time this season when it visits the Nets on Wednesday night.
After matching the franchise’s longest winning streak at 10 from Jan. 9-26 to pull into third place in the Western Conference, the Hornets (32-21) have dropped five of six and are one game ahead of sixth-place Utah.
Part of the reason for this slide stems from an injury to Emeka Okafor, who has sat out the last four games with a left oblique strain, but New Orleans’ defensive troubles cropped up before its starting center went down.
The Hornets are giving up an average of 103.0 points in their last five losses after allowing an average of 83.9 in their previous seven games. Despite its sudden struggles, New Orleans is still second in the league in scoring defense at 92.3 points per game.
“Defense is just something that comes from your heart,” guard Willie Green said after Monday’s 104-92 loss to West-worst Minnesota. “This team does have heart, but lately we’ve been getting kind of pushed around a little bit.
“Allowing teams to score over a hundred points is not typical of us. We’ve taken a little dip. We’re not going to panic, though. We’re going to right the ship.”
The Hornets, opening a stretch of playing 10 of 13 on the road, appear to have a good chance of getting things turned around against New Jersey, which has the NBA’s second-worst offense, averaging 92.5 points.
The Nets (15-37) are averaging 86.7 points during their three-game losing streak and are 2-30 when failing to score 93.
The Hornets are 25-1 when holding opponents to 93 points or fewer.
New Orleans kept the Nets below that number in the first meeting, beating them 105-91 on Dec. 22. The Hornets have won six of the last seven in this series but lost 115-87 in their last trip to New Jersey on April 3.
New Orleans was led by Okafor’s 21 points and 10 rebounds in the December meeting, while David West added 18 points and nine boards. Four-time All-Star Chris Paul had 12 points and 14 assists, but he’s combined for 18 points on 8-of-29 shooting with 15 assists in his last two games in New Jersey.
The Nets are coming off Sunday’s 105-86 loss to Indiana, their fifth defeat in six games. Brook Lopez and Devin Harris led New Jersey with 13 points apiece on a combined 9-of-26 shooting.
That duo has contributed to the Nets’ offensive struggles.
Lopez, who averages a team-best 19.4 points, hasn’t scored more than 16 during the skid, while Harris is averaging 11.0 points in his last six games – 4.2 less than his season average.
“There are no excuses,” guard Anthony Morrow said. “It’s a team thing. There’s something we have to do to overcome. (Coach Avery Johnson) is doing everything he can do. We collectively find out what it takes to get over this right now.”
Updated February 8, 2011
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