NEW ORLEANS – After losing nine of their previous 10 games, the New Orleans Hornets finally played the kind of defense coach Monty Williams has been preaching to his young team as a way to suffocate scorers such as as Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis.
The Hornets held the Milwaukee Bucks to 31 second-half points Monday night on just 12-of-34 shooting (35.3 percent).
Forward Ryan Anderson scored 22 points and center Robin Lopez tied his season high with 21points in just 23 minutes to lift the Hornets to a 102-81 victory over the Bucks at the New Orleans Arena.
“We have to play hard and we have to defend,” Williams said after his Hornets (5-11) handed the Bucks their 11th consecutive loss in New Orleans. “When we defend like that, it gives us a chance to shoot easy buckets, and that is how you get close to 50 percent. You’re getting a lot layups.”
Lopez was the catalyst in a 13-0 Hornets run in the third quarter, scoring 11 consecutive points in that spurt as New Orleans took a 71-60 lead with 4:11 left in the period. Lopez took a feed from Greivis Vasquez for his first basket, hit a 17-footer from the right wing, then grabbing loose ball for a dunk.
The 7-footer was particularly impressive on the scramble play, diving to the floor and then regaining his feet for the dunk.
“We’re really proud of him,” said Anderson, who broke out of a scoring slump to make 9 of 14 from the field. “Robin is one of those guys who can really be a game-changer. He made a lot of huge effort plays and offensive rebounds. Those are energy plays that we need to do more of. That’s something he really brings. He can bring the ball over the top of the defense, and he’s a good finisher.”
Lopez sat out the entire fourth quarter or he probably would have surpassed his season scoring high.
“The first unit talked about being very aggressive from the outset on both ends of the floor, and I just happened to be fortunate enough to be on the end of a lot of great passes,” Lopez said. “I was able to reap the benefits. People found me.”
When the Bucks answered with five straight points, Anderson drove around Ersan Ilyasova for a layup, then hit an 18-footer to put New Orleans up 75-64. Leading 81-72, New Orleans scored eight straight — four by Jason Smith — to open an 89-72 lead with 5:58 left.
The Bucks (8-8) were led by Jennings, who had a game-high 25 points, and Ellis, who added 17. The Hornets held Milwaukee to 38.2 percent shooting for the game on 29-of-76 from the floor.
Milwaukee coach Scott Skiles said the Bucks’ weak side defense was the culprit in defending the Hornets’ pick-and-roll offense.
“We weren’t as active as we needed to be and we didn’t trap the ball hard enough,” Skiles said. “Those two things go hand in hand. We gave them 27 points off turnovers trying to drive the ball inside and take ill-advised shots. In the paint they were collapsing, and those are hard plays to make. Unfortunately, we didn’t make them.”
Jennings led all scorers with 15 first-half points, but he needed 15 shots to do it. He finished 10-of-23 on the night.
NOTES: The Hornets did a much better job than usual handling ball, committing only eight turnovers after averaging 15.1 per game in their 4-11 start… In what could be a sign of progress, Hornets’ rookie forward Anthony Davis, who has missed the last eight games with a stress reaction in his left ankle, was wearing street shoes instead of a plastic walking boot on the Hornets’ bench Monday… The Bucks now have lost 14 of their last 17 games in New Orleans… Bucks reserve forward Larry Sanders had 15 blocks in his previous two games and added seven more blocks Monday night.