Hornets on the rise thanks to defense

Team on the Rise
New Orleans —
 The sky is blue. Grass is green. And the Hornets are the team on the rise.

Of course it is the obvious choice for this week, but I did have them ranked as the No. 11 team a week ago, and New Orleans has shot all the way up to No. 2 — and could make an argument as the top team in the league.

The Hornets are 7-0 after Tuesday's win against the Clippers — the only team on the schedule so far that was not a playoff team last year. And they disposed of a non-playoff caliber team like they should have with a 101-82 drubbing. According to Elias, New Orleans is one of four teams in league history to win its first seven games after finishing under .500 the previous season.

Meanwhile, the top-ranked Lakers, also undefeated at 8-0 going into tonight's game at Denver, have seen only two playoff teams from a year ago — Phoenix and Portland.

New Orleans is idle until a Saturday home game against Portland, which kicks off another four-game run against playoff teams from a year ago before a hitting the road for five of six to close out the month.

First-year coach Monty Williams is getting it done with defense. His squad is scoring only 98 a game — 20th in the league — but giving up just 90.1 — tied for tops in the league. If the Hornets defeat Portland it will tie Williams with Larry Brown for the best start to a season by a first-year coach.

Team on the Decline
Denver —
 Houston sat in this spot a week ago, and could be here again. However, it's hard to decline when you are already at the bottom. "Team on the Decline" is reserved for a team that could actually be a factor when the season is in the closing stages — so the likelihood of the Clippers, Timberwolves or Kings being on this list this year is minimal.

Therefore, Denver gets the nod this week. The Nuggets started their three-game road trip with a win at Dallas before falling to Chicago and getting pasted 144-113 by Indiana. Tonight they play host to a Lakers team that was less than impressive against lowly Minnesota, but should be geared up for a rematch of the 2009 Western Conference finals.

Denver blew a six-point lead with seven minutes to go in Chicago and was never in the game against an Indiana team that went from scoring 30 in the second half of its previous game to quarters of 27, 32, 54 and 31 in its blowout of the Nuggets.

A win tonight against the Lakers is needed, but without the presence of Kenyon Martin, Chris Andersen and Nene just coming back from a groin injury, chances of the Nuggets' perimeter players defeating the Lakers' perimeter players are slim.

Denver has games at Phoenix and home against the Knicks before a trip to Portland next Thursday, so the coming week will be big to respond from what will probably be a three-game skid this week.

Numbers to Know
3 —
According to Elias, the Utah Jazz are the first team in the shot clock era (1954-55) to win three straight games after trailing by at least 10 points at the half. Utah came back after being down 18 against the Clippers, 22 against the Heat and 18 against the Magic to get the trio of wins.

18 — San Antonio defeated the Clippers Wednesday night, marking the 18th straight win for the Spurs against the L.A. franchise. It's the longest current win streak any team has over another in the NBA. San Antonio's longest streak against one team was a 21-game run against Memphis form 1997-2002.

31 — Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook scored 31 apiece against Philadelphia Wednesday night, giving Oklahoma City the first pair of 30-point scorers on the same team this season.

74 — Through six NBA telecasts leading up to Wednesday night's doubleheader, ESPN's ratings were up 74 percent compared to a year earlier.

Beyond the Arc
Some good news:
Not much good has been coming from the Timberwolves in the early part of this NBA season. They are losing. Kevin Love isn't getting the minutes you would expect. They've lost by 25 three times in nine games so far — a feat only two other teams in the past 20 years have attained. But Michael Beasley at least gave Minnesota fans some spark when he scored 18 in the first quarter and 27 in the first half — both one point shy of team records — en route to a career high 42 points in a 98-89 victory at Sacramento Wednesday.

Nash staying put? Earlier this season, Phoenix PG Steve Nash questioned how good this version of the Suns would be. Well, they have very little post presence, but are good on the perimeter — sounds like a majority of the league. But the perimeter play has them at 3-4 and a buzz is being generated about Nash, the best player for Phoenix, being moved. It seems like a noble thing to do. Average team. Aging guard. A ring for Nash. We see it all the time — talks of moving championship ringless superstars as they get up there in years.

But as Arizona Republic writer Paul Coro reported, if the 36-year-old goes, so too does someone else.

"Steve's not going to be traded, that I can tell you," Suns coach Alvin Gentry said. "If he's getting traded, I'm going along with him, OK? Have you looked at the way he's playing? He's playing at a real high level. Why would we trade him? I don't understand that. That's nothing that's been discussed here."

Gentry added the Nash is the face of the franchise, and the face stays.

Taking a bite in the Big Apple: David Lee made his return to New York Wednesday night as the Golden State Warriors defeated the Knicks 122-117. Lee, who was the Warriors' key free-agent signing in the offseason, scored a season-high 28 in his return — the first former New York player since Walt Frazier in 1977 to score at least that many in his first game against the Knicks.

Lee's former team honored him — strangely enough in the middle of the game — with a video montage saying thank you. He also left with some marks on his elbow after going for a rebound against Wilson Chandler and knocking one of Chandler's teeth out in the process.

"Well, I got the rebound and he (Wilson Chandler) was diving in to get the offensive rebound and his tooth dug in and sliced it open pretty good," Lee said after the game. "I can actually see the bone coming out a little bit. So it probably requires a few stitches and I got to deal with the Knicks medical staff. I just wanted to hang out with them a little bit more I haven’t seen them in a while so I’ll get that chance tonight.”

— Corby A. Yarbrough @AthlonCorby on Twitter

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