The New Orleans Hornets were the last unbeaten team in the NBA before losing to the Mavericks on Monday night at Dallas. Still 9-1, the reason for the Hornets' success has been defense as they went into Wednesday's action leading the league in points allowed with an average of 90.7 a game. They were also third in defensive efficiency with a 97.0 mark, trailing the Orlando Magic (94.5) and Milwaukee Bucks (95.4).
"It's the defense every night," forward Trevor Ariza said. "It's been the key for us. We're all supposed to be one unit, and that's what we try to display out there on the defensive end. In order to do what we're trying to do, we have to get it done on the defensive end."
The Hornets have held each of their nine opponents to fewer than 100 points. First-year coach Monty Williams says point guard Chris Paul is "the head of the snake" on defense and center Emeka Okafor is a big factor on the back end.
"I can't say I'm surprised but I didn't expect them to grasp so much of the defense this quickly," Williams said. "Still, we haven't scratched the surface."
Milwaukee, meanwhile, have needed the strong defensive effort just to be near .500 at 5-6. Their 96.4 offensive efficiency rating is next-to-last in the league ahead of only the Wizards (96.2).
"The defense has helped us overcome our offensive struggles, where we shot in the low 40s, the high 30s," power forward Drew Gooden said. "We know we can be better. That's the scary thing."
Defense has also been the Dallas Mavericks' strong suit during their 7-2 start as opponents have an NBA-worst 46.1 effective field goal percentage.
"Execution and taking care of the ball go a long way toward putting you in a position to defend," coach Rick Carlisle said. "This year that's become more of an emphasis for us. We want to be aggressive on one hand, but on the other hand we want to be efficient with the ball."
Cousins Clashing in Sacramento?
DeMarcus Cousins had the reputation of being difficult during his one-year collegiate career at Kentucky. That is why he dropped to the fifth overall pick in this year's NBA Draft despite having the raw talent to be selected higher.
The center is already causing disruptions with the Sacramento Kings just a few weeks into his rookie season. It was reported last week by AOL Fanhouse that Cousins was fined $5,000 for verbal exchanges with assistant coach Truck Robinson and strength and condition coach Daniel Shapiro. While Cousins denied the fine had anything to do with getting into an argument with staff memories, the Kings would not comment other than to say they are happy with their new big man and are not trying to trade him.
"In general, we are thrilled with DeMarcus," Sacramento coach Paul Westphal said. "We are very much on the same page. He's a young player who has one year of college experience, and he's played (nine) NBA games. We think he's doing great."
Cousins said he has no problems with anyone associated with the Kings.
"I have no issues with nobody on this team, no coach on this team," Cousins said. "I have my rookie frustrations. It's a hard process to go through. You do get frustrated. Problems with the coach, problems with teammates? I don't have that. It's rumors. That's like me saying, 'Tupac Shakur is alive. Go write a story about it.' Everybody here gets along."
While the speculation continues to persist that Cousins is unhappy with the Kings and his teammates are unhappy with him, team president Geoff Petrie went on the defensive when asked if there were chemistry problems with his team. He also downplayed the significance of Cousins' fine.
"I haven't seen a lack of chemistry," Petrie said. "There's a lot of work to be done. We've got to concentrate on things that make us better. You have to have some standards, or the lack of standards will start you down the road to anarchy."
Durant and Westbrook a Top Duo
The Oklahoma City Thunder's Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are fast becoming of one of the best duos in the NBA.
Durant leads the league in scoring with a 28.4 average and Westbrook is tied for seventh with a 23.5 mark. They also became the first set of teammates in Sonics/Thunder history to both score 30 points in back-to-back games last week since Dale Ellis and Xavier McDaniel in 1988-89.
Perhaps it is time to start looking at Durant and Westbrook in the same light as some of the NBA's other top duos such as the Heat's LeBron James and Dwyane Wade or the Lakers' Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol.
"I really haven't thought about that, but you can say that," Durant told The Oklahoman. "It's a lot of great duos in this league. We try not to think like that. We try not to think the offense is run just through us two. We got a lot of great guys on this team that can score."
Grizzlies Hold Players-Only Meeting
It seems fairly early in the season for a players-only meeting. However, the Memphis Grizzlies called one following Monday night's 17-point loss to the Magic at Orlando.
"We just needed to re-discuss some of the goals we had in preseason," point guard Mike Conley said. "We needed something to get our mojo back. We needed to talk. It's never too early to have a team meeting. Coach said we need to be more professional."
Grizzlies coach Lionel Hollins says he never has a problem with players meeting amongst themselves. In fact, he encourages it.
"Things need to be said and you don't take it personally as a coach," Hollins said.
The meeting didn't appear to work, though, as the Grizzlies came home Tuesday night and lost to the Trail Blazers, dropping their record to 4-8.
John Perrotto is an author of Basketball Prospectus.
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