Hornets will play three March games in New Orleans

OKLAHOMA CITY -- The New Orleans Hornets on Thursday reached
an agreement to play three games at the New Orleans Arena in March
and move two other games scheduled in Baton Rouge this month to
their temporary home in Oklahoma.

In their first games in New Orleans since Hurricane Katrina, the
Hornets will face the Los Angeles Lakers on March 8, the Denver
Nuggets on March 18 and the Los Angeles Clippers on March 21.

"I'm looking forward to seeing New Orleans rebuilt," Hornets
President Paul Mott said by telephone after the announcement.
"This is not a city that is going to vanish. ... I think this is a
city that is going to come back better and stronger, and I want to
be a part of it."

The NBA, which announced the schedule change Thursday, also said it plans to announce the Hornets' home for next season by the
end of January.

Mott said scheduling the games in Baton Rouge was the best
option prior to the season, but he's now confident that management
company SMG will have the New Orleans Arena ready in time for the
March games. He's hoping there will be enough fans in attendance to
provide a noticeable home-court advantage.

"We're doing this because I think it's the right thing to do,"
said Mott, who toured the arena in November and December.

Also, the Hornets will play their games Jan. 13 against
Sacramento and Jan. 18 against Memphis in Oklahoma instead of at
Louisiana State University's Pete Maravich Center in Baton Rouge.

The Hornets were disappointed by turnout last month at the first
of six games scheduled in Baton Rouge, which were considered a
gesture toward maintaining the team's connection to Louisiana and
its intended return to New Orleans next season.

Only 7,302 fans -- or just more than half of capacity -- were in
attendance Dec. 16 when the Hornets squandered a 15-point lead in a
101-88 loss to Phoenix in Baton Rouge. Afterward, Hornets coach
Byron Scott approached general manager Jeff Bower about moving the
other games.

"We had that game in hand," Scott said. "We thoroughly
outplayed them for 36 minutes. In the back of my mind when I went
into the locker room, I said, `If this game would have been in
Oklahoma City, it wouldn't have been this close.' If we would have
had a 14-point lead going into the fourth quarter, we'd have won
the game."

Scott said he doesn't think moving the two games out of
Louisiana will alienate fans in the state, noting that hurricane
victims probably have better things to spend their money on than
attending an NBA game.

"I think they would understand," Scott said. "All the people
that were in Louisiana before the hurricane are not there right
now, so I don't think the fan base is there right now for our
basketball team, especially right now in this month. It might
change in March."

Moving the games also eliminates a span of seven consecutive
games scheduled outside Oklahoma for the Hornets. After a game
against Detroit on Tuesday, the Hornets weren't scheduled to play
in Oklahoma City for 15 days despite having two "home" games.

Scott said the Hornets' success made it more important to move
the games. New Orleans entered Thursday 1½games behind Utah for
the final Western Conference playoff spot.

"It would have been a killer trip for us," Scott said.

Due to a conflict with a Bon Jovi concert rehearsal at the Ford
Center, the Hornets are still seeking a site for their Jan. 13 game
against Sacramento.

The Memphis game will be played at the Ford Center, where the
Hornets have sold out eight of their 14 games so far this season.
The Hornets are averaging 18,720 fans at their Oklahoma City games
this season.

After winning only 18 games all last season, the Hornets are off
to a 14-17 start this season and are 9-5 at the Ford Center. San
Antonio, Miami and the Los Angeles Clippers were all in first place
when they lost at the Ford Center, where the Hornets also beat
current Northwest Division leader Minnesota.

"Our guys feel real comfortable here. I think the fans have
made them feel that this is their team, and our players feel that
this is our home," Scott said.

The Hornets moved to Oklahoma City in September after Hurricane
Katrina hit New Orleans and damaged the arena. The team was to play
35 regular-season games, plus two preseason games and any playoff
games, at the 19,163-seat Ford Center.