Published: Wednesday, January 19, 2011, 4:57 AM     Updated: Wednesday, January 19, 2011, 6:40 AM

Peter Finney, Times-Picayune


Peter Finney, Times-Picayune



For Gil McGregor, watching crunch time unfold Monday, it was almost like watching the same movie, over and over.

The New Orleans Hornets were on their way to winning their fifth game in a row, and McGregor sat there at courtside, shaking his head in admiration.

NEW ORLEANS HORNETS VS. TORONTO RAPTORSChris Paul and Jerrett Jack tie up the ball with DeMar DeRozan in the forth quarter as the New Orleans Hornets defeated the Toronto Raptors 85-81 on Monday.

“You got to love this team,” said McGregor, the Hornets’ analyst for CST who is into his 23rd season with the franchise. “They don’t owe their winning record to blowing their opponents away, winning games when all shots are going in, when all things are working. With these guys, it usually comes down to a play here, a decision there.”

That’s how it was Monday in wiping out an eight-point, fourth-quarter lead by the Toronto Raptors, coming up with two free throws and David West blocking a layup in the final 16 seconds to win 85-81.

The Hornets were winning with one field goal by Chris Paul.

“I don’t know if that’s ever happened,” McGregor said. “But that gives you an idea of what this team is all about.”

The winning streak the Hornets (26-16) take into the New Orleans Arena tonight against the Memphis Grizzlies began Jan. 9 in Denver, when Paul had 20 points and West 19, this while the defense was limiting Nuggets all-world forward Carmelo Anthony to eight points, 16 points under his average, in a 96-87 victory.

This was followed by a 92-89 overtime win over the Orlando Magic in which Marcus Thornton came off the bench to score a team-high 22 points, including seven of his team’s 11 in overtime.

Then came another overtime win, this one over the Rockets in Houston, 110-105, a game in which West exploded for 29 points, and the visitors overcame a 16-point deficit by limiting the Rockets to 14 in the final period of regulation.

It was four in a row after beating the Bobcats in Charlotte, 88-81, behind West’s 26, Paul’s 19, Emeka Okafor’s 10 points, 10 rebounds, and three blocked shots, also, significantly, by holding the enemy to 14 points in the final 12 minutes.

“This is a team that deserves every one of their 26 victories,” McGregor said. “And the credit goes right to the men in charge, Dell Demps and Monty Williams.”

McGregor looks at the general manager and the head coach as “two men without ego who took over at a delicate time, a time there was all kinds of speculation about your top player considering going somewhere else. You consider this, along with a franchise whose ownership was in question, and you have to say the way Dell Demps and Monty Williams handled their jobs was outstanding. And I feel it all goes back to the kind of people Dell and Monty are. To them, ego is not having the jobs they have. To them, ego is doing the job. And you do that by winning the confidence, winning the respect of the people that matter.”

To McGregor, who has been around the block a few times, the job Monty Williams did in winning the confidence of Chris Paul and David West was crucial.

“A rookie head coach, Monty won the respect of Chris and David because the special dedication Monty had to his job sold two players with the same kind of dedication (that) they had to their jobs,” McGregor said. “Monty loved being around a point guard like Chris who looked at basketball as a game played on a checker board, only Chris was playing chess, not checkers. Monty looked on Chris as a maestro out there, always looking to make the moves that had to be done. It became a special relationship.”

As for West, McGregor feels he “became as much of a leader as Chris” because Williams found a way to turn loose the talent he had.

“When David’s name came up as one of the top players at his position,” McGregor said, “you always heard, ‘he’s good, BUT.’ There was always a BUT. Not anymore. He’s playing the game now with off-the-wall confidence. There are no more buts regarding David West.”

So what else has Gil McGregor seen from courtside?

Emeka Okafor and Trevor Ariza: “I’m happy for Emeka. On defense, he used to get all kinds of traffic inside because of the perimeter defense. Trevor’s defense has helped in slowing down the traffic. Emeka has become a factor inside, on offense and defense. His offensive rebounding was crucial in the win over Toronto.”

Marcus Thornton: “You have to enjoy his story. He’s known in the region. It’s folklore. He’s worked his way into the rotation. Looks like he has a promising future.”

Willie Green: “He’s a solid guy, better than OK. He oozes confidence. He welcomes the role of a role player.”

Jarrett Jack: “The other day, I saw him drive to the basket. He looked like he’s beginning to play at being himself. He looks confident shooting the pull-up jumper. He could be the best backup point guard to Chris the Hornets have had.”

Marco Belinelli: “He has lots of skills. He’s got to maintain confidence. Right now, Marco has to prove what many have to do – fight through an injury.”


Peter Finney can be reached at 504.826.3405.