At one point, the Hornets stood at 11-1 and held the NBA's best record. They were coming off of a season where they had missed the playoffs and entered the year with a new General Manager, a new Head Coach, nine new players and without a solidified owner. The start brought solace to a franchise that desperately needed a semblance of stability and optimism. However, after the Hornets struggled to a victory over the Sacramento Kings in the last win of that 11-1 stretch, coach Monty Williams voiced displeasure over the team's performance and even went so far as to say "Looking at our record, it might be fool's gold." The Hornets would promptly lose their next game to the lowly Los Angeles Clippers and would begin a very tough stretch; a clock striking midnight if you will. The team had moments where they would regain form of that 11-1 stretch, a stretch that saw them beat the Nuggets, Spurs, Mavericks, Rockets, Heat and Trail Blazers, but would go 7-14 over their next 21 games to fall to 18-14. The team would win 3 straight after that but would immediately lose 2 straight; falling to 21-16 and bringing a lot of "I Told You So's" from people in regards to the Hornets overall level of play and a new bought of pessimism as the Hornets were now not struggling on the court, going 10-15 since the 11-1 start, but they were without ownership as the NBA had taken control of the franchise from former owner George Shinn. But then the Hornets team breathed life into the season; almost as unexpectedly as it had given life into the season at the start of the year. And what followed clocks in as the number two moment in the Hornets top ten for the season.
On January 9th, 2011, at 21-16, the Hornets went to Denver to face the 20-15 Denver Nuggets, who were facing adversity of their own amidst rumors of a potential Carmelo Anthony trade. The Nuggets seemed rattled by the crowd, who booed Anthony all night long and then took to booing the team as the Hornets jumped to a 65-47 lead with 7:23 left in the third quarter on a Chris Paul jump shot. The Hornets would find themselves in a dog fight as the Nuggets clawed all the way back to cut the deficit to 87-85 with 4:14 left in the game. Memories of Hornets collapses already early in the season began to haunt most Hornets fans but the team responded well: getting a three point play from David West and a three point shot from Chris Paul to push the lead back up to 8. The Hornets, led by 19 points and 8 rebounds from David West and 20 points and 6 assists from Chris Paul, beat the lethargic Nuggets 95-87. What nobody knew was that it would be the start of a franchise record 10 game winning streak for the New Orleans Hornets.
On January 12th, the Hornets welcomed Dwight Howard and the 25-12 Orlando Magic , who were in the middle of a 9 game winning streak, to the New Orleans Arena for an epic showdown. Marco Belinelli sprained his ankle 30 seconds into the game and the Hornets starting shooting guard went to the locker room and would not return. Marcus Thornton, who had shot 6 for 33 in his last 7 games, came into the game and promptly played a season high 32 minutes in pacing the Hornets to an upset victory over the Magic. It was a tightly contested game throughout until Chris Paul hit a floater in the lane to give the Hornets a 79-72 lead with 1:36 left in regulation. But the Magic came roaring back behind two three's by Jason Richardson that cut the lead to 80-78 with 43 seconds left. Chris Paul would miss one of two free throws and Hedo Turkoglu would knock down a 3 point shot with 6 seconds left to tie the game at 81 and send it into overtime. It certainly didn't look as if momentum was in the Hornets favor. The teams traded leads until the Magic had an 89-88 edge. Marcus Thornton then hit a tough fade away at the top of the key to give the Hornets a 90-89 lead. Magic center Dwight Howard, who finished with 29 points and 20 rebounds, would miss two free throws before Thornton hit two of his own to give the Hornets a 92-89 overtime victory. The Hornets were led by Thornton's 22 points and 9 rebounds to go with Emeka Okafor's 18 points and 14 rebounds and Chris Paul's 12 points and 13 assists.
On January 14th, the Hornets traveled to Houston to face the division rival Rockets. It was an ugly game all around for New Orleans, who watched Chris Paul struggle with five turnovers and who were outscored 29-14 in the third quarter where they had twice as many turnovers (8) as they did field goals (4). Down 16 late in the third quarter, things looked bad for New Orleans before Jarrett Jack caught a rhythm. He hit three's, drove to the basket and found open teammates in an impressive fourth quarter showing that allowed him to finish with 23 points on 14 shots and 7 assists. The Hornets came all the way back to tie it at 93 all on a thunderous dunk by David West that silenced the crowd and gave the Hornets momentum. The game went into overtime (the second straight for New Orleans) at 95 all when Trevor Ariza would give the Hornets their first lead since the second quarter at 100-99 on a corner three and Chris Paul would give the Hornets the lead for good at 104-102 off a jump shot over Kevin Martin. The Hornets battled to win a second straight overtime game behind 29 points and 9 rebounds from David West, 17 points and 15 rebounds from Emeka Okafor and Jack's performance in addition to 6 of Chris Paul's 11 points coming in the extra period. The winning streak was now at 3 games.
The Hornets traveled to their former stomping grounds, Charlotte, on January 15th for a back to back game. Losing an hour due to the travel east and also coming on the second night of a back to back and also following two overtimes, a lethargic performance was probably expected from the Hornets. While they weren't necessarily sharp shooting the ball, the Hornets were in the game for the entire contest; mainly due to only committing 8 turnovers the entire game. With New Orleans up 81-77, Bobcats forward Tyrus Thomas rebounded the ball and inexplicably threw an elbow at Emeka Okafor, costing the Bobcats the basketball and helping New Orleans blow open the game. Okafor would hit his two free throws and West would hit two more to give the Hornets an 8 point lead. They held on to win 88-81 and push the winning streak to 4 games behind 26 points and 8 rebounds from David West, 10 points and 10 rebounds from Emeka Okafor and 19 points from Chris Paul.
On Martin Luther King Day, January 17th, the Hornets would welcome the Toronto Raptors to the New Orleans Arena for an odd day game for the Hornets. To be nice, the Hornets played as sloppy a game as they had up to that point all season long and also saw the 13-27 Raptors jump all over them to get a 57-45 advantaged in the third quarter and silence the Hornets crowd. The team, though, responded with effort plays. Forcing Toronto to commit 16 turnovers and also collecting 15 second chance points on 19 offensive rebounds to keep them in a game they otherwise had no business being in. After coming all the way back to tie the game at 76, the Hornets and Raptors traded leads before David West hit a jumper with 30 seconds left to give the Hornets the lead for good. The Hornets would come all the way back to defeat Toronto 85-81 to put the win streak at 5 games behind Emeka Okafor's 17 points and 16 rebounds (12 offensive rebounds), David West's 23 points and 10 rebounds and Jarrett Jack's 17 points off the bench on 13 shots in 27 minutes against his old team.
January 19th gave this particular Hornets fan his favorite game of the season, as New Orleans played host to the 19-22 Memphis Grizzlies in the New Orleans Arena for a Wednesday night game. Memphis, who had been riding a hot streak of late, came into the game focused and jumped on New Orleans early, who still hadn't recovered from their largely sloppy performance against Toronto two days earlier. The Grizzlies jumped out to an early lead and maintained it for the majority of the game; leading by 8 at the end of the first quarter, nine at the end of the second quarter and leading by 15 points at one point in the third quarter. But as the Hornets had shown, they would not be counted out of any game. The Hornets would ride a hot stretch by Belinelli to immediately cut the lead down to 7 before David West and Chris Paul got going and even gave the Hornets the lead at the end of the third quarter at 68-66. At this point, the Hive was rocking and the team had gained all momentum. But the Grizzlies remained focused and did not get rattled as they came out in the fourth quarter and reestablished their hold on the game. A Rudy Gay dunk would give Memphis an 80-74 lead with 8:24 left. The Hornets, led by the inspired play of Marcus Thornton, would come back into the game and would trade leads with the Grizzlies until the game went into overtime at 92 apiece. Thornton, who didn't even get into the game until 5:20 remained in the third quarter, scored 17 points in his 22 minutes and Chris Paul made desperation three's to keep the team in the game. With New Orleans down 102-101 and with Memphis inbounding the basketball, those two would strike gold once again. Thornton would deflect the inbounds play as Chris Paul corralled the basketball and dribbled up court. He passed it to Emeka Okafor who found a streaking Thornton for the reverse layup to give the Hornets an improbable 103-102 lead with 7 seconds remaining in overtime. Rudy Gay would miss a three pointer at the buzzer to give the Hornets their sixth straight victory behind Thornton's performance, Chris Paul's 20 points and 12 assists, David West's 19 points and 9 rebounds and Emeka Okafor's 11 points and 11 rebounds.
GOn January 21st, the Hornets would travel to Atlanta, who had a 28-15 record, for the first game of a back to back in the midst of their winning streak. The Hornets promptly destroyed the Atlanta Hawks. The game was competitive early but not for long as the Hornets took a 29-28 deficit in the second quarter and turned it into a 51-34 halftime advantage. The Hornets would not let up as they held the Hawks to 29 percent shooting and the lowest offensive output since the team arrived to Atlanta in 1968. The Hornets defense would limit the overall numbers of any single performer, but every Hornet scored (led by Chris Paul's 16 points) and the Hornets would shoot 48 percent from the field in a 100-59 victory.
The next night, the Hornets traveled back home to face league leading San Antonio Spurs who came in with a 37-6 record and riding an 8 game winning streak of their own. In what is easily one of my favorite games of the season, the sold out New Orleans Arena provided an atmosphere unlike any other so far that season as the team was approaching the reach of the benchmark/lease agreement between the franchise and the New Orleans Arena. The fans booed the division rival Spurs at every touch as the Hornets and Spurs toughed their way through a brutal first half that left the Hornets with a slim 41-38 lead at halftime. Then, in the third quarter, the Hornets exploded. Behind four Trevor Ariza three pointers, stifling defense and an overall performance from everyone involved, the Hornets outscored San Antonio 31-10 in the third quarter and blew the game open, resting all of their starters in the fourth quarter and leaving the Hive a happy place. Both Trevor Ariza and Marcus Thornton hit all four three pointers they attempted as the Hornets set a season high with 12 3's made in the game. Only Tony Parker scored in double digits for the Spurs starters as the Hornets got 18 points and 10 rebounds from David West, 12 rebounds and 5 blocked shots from Emeka Okafor and 38 points from the bench in a team effort to push the winning streak now to 8 games.
The Hornets, fresh off the two blow outs, welcomed the Oklahoma City Thunder into New Orleans, who were 2-0 against the Hornets this season and who were looking to spoil the celebration of the Hornets meeting their attendance benchmark. OKC jumped out to a 33-19 lead in the first quarter, silencing the New Orleans Arena crowd and scoring on a New Orleans defense that had been terrific the previous two games. The Hornets, though, gained 17 turnovers from the Thunder and got 27 points off of that to get back into the game. Jeff Green would hit a jumper to give OKC a 79-73 lead early in the 4th before the teams would trade leads back and forth for the remainder of the game. The Thunder still led 83-78 before Paul got a layup off a steal from Russell Westbrook and a three pointer to tie the game up. With the game at 89 apiece and with the Thunder inbounding the basketball, Paul would again steal the ball from Westbrook and the Hornets would set up one last play. They got the ball to David West, who faced off against Serge Ibaka and hit a falling fade away jump shot with 0.5 seconds left to give the Hornets the 91-89 come from behind victory over OKC. The winning streak was now at 9 games behind 24 points and 9 assists from Chris Paul, 20 points from David West and 26 points from the New Orleans bench.
The tenth win of the winning streak, much like the 11th win of the team's 11-1 stretch early in the season, would be an uninspired road victory over a pacific division team. Traveling to Golden State to play the Warriors, the Hornets would take a 12 point lead early and would lead by double digits for most of the game. But when the bench went into the game, the Hornets saw the lead evaporate into a small four point advantage. Monty Williams would put the starters back in the game, all five starters scored in double figures, and the Hornets would win with a 112-103 advantage in Golden State behind 19 points from Trevor Ariza, 18 points and 17 assists from Chris Paul and 22 points on 12 shots from David West.
The very next game, the Hornets would lose in Sacramento, the place where their last victory of that 11-1 stretch had taken place. The team's problems resurfaced as an injury to Emeka Okafor would spur a tough stretch for New Orleans. Much in the way that the team went 7-14 following that 11-1 start, the Hornets would go 4-12 following this 10 game winning streak. But even though the team didn't tear the league apart or sustain the winning streak, it occurred during a time where optimism was at an all time low for the Hornets franchise. Without an owner, with things looking dim and with the team struggling, they reeled off ten victories against mostly quality opponents and showed grit, toughness and determination that would define the team during its run to the playoffs. For ten games, there was no better team to cheer for in the NBA and we saw the team meet the benchmark, beat division rivals, beat superstars, come from behind and blow out teams in a wonderful stretch of basketball from its three superstars: Chris Paul, David West and Emeka Okafor. Because of that, this moment comes in as the number two moment for the Hornets 2010/2011 season.