Ryan Anderson and Robin Lopez had spoken recently about the need to justify their new leadership roles with the young New Orleans Hornets by exerting the kind of feisty effort that would energize their slumping squad.
That talk became reality on Monday night.
Anderson scored 22 points, Lopez tied a season high with 21 and New Orleans won for only the second time in 11 games, 102-81 over the Milwaukee Bucks.
"We needed an effort game and we needed to prove to ourselves that when we play like that we can beat a team by a big margin," said Anderson, who like Lopez was a young role player on his former team before coming to New Orleans last summer in a trade. "We needed a win like that at home, too. That was a big win in a lot of ways. It sparks our confidence."
Lopez shot 8 of 10 from the field and made all five free throws he attempted. He also scored 11 straight points during a pivotal 13-0 run in the third quarter that gave New Orleans the lead for good.
"It's something we definitely talked about, being aggressive, but talk is cheap and what really counts is we went out there and did it," Lopez said.
Jason Smith added 12 points and Greivis Vasquez had 11 for the Hornets, who shot 52.4 percent (43 of 82) from the field.
Brandon Jennings hit five 3-pointers and finished with 25 points. Monta Ellis added 17 for Milwaukee, which shot 38.2 percent (29 of 76).
Milwaukee's Larry Sanders blocked seven shots and the Bucks outrebounded the Hornets 40-37. But that was not nearly enough to keep pace with a New Orleans squad that broke loose for one of its best performances of the season, despite being without top overall draft pick Anthony Davis (left ankle), who missed his eighth straight game.
"We just could not stop them," Bucks coach Scott Skiles said. "We thought at some point someone would stop someone, but we just couldn't get a stop and build some momentum."
The Bucks had 19 offensive rebounds, but because of poor shooting, they finished with fewer second-chance points (20) than the Hornets (23). New Orleans also outscored Milwaukee in the paint, 48-34.
"When we're really moving the ball around, we're really hard to guard. When we start dribbling too much, we get in trouble," Skiles said. "It seemed like we dribbled into crowds tonight and had trouble getting out of crowds, turned it over, they went down and made shots."
Indeed, the Hornets converted 16 Bucks turnovers into 27 points.
"When we defend like that, it gives us a chance to shoot easy buckets and that is how you get close to 50 percent (shooting)," Hornets coach Monty Williams said. "You can play against anybody if you play hard and defend. We were fortunate enough to get that tonight."
Milwaukee had a 60-58 lead when Lopez began to take over. He hit a jumper at the shot-clock buzzer that was later disallowed, but it nonetheless seemed to get him in rhythm.
Soon after, Al-Farouq Aminu converted a fast-break dunk that did count, igniting a 13-0 in which Lopez scored the final 11 points on three inside baskets. He had a three-point play along with a jumper and a pair of free throws.
"That was huge. That little run made that game for us. It was a make-or-break situation," Anderson said of Lopez. "To have him kind of really step up and make some huge plays really sparked the energy and the effort for the rest of the game."
That spurt gave New Orleans a 71-60 lead, and Anderson added a couple of jumpers and a layup late in the period to help the Hornets maintain a 77-67 advantage heading into the fourth quarter.
The lead grew as large as 22 points in the final quarter as even New Orleans' reserves shot well. Lance Thomas and Brian Roberts each finished with 10 points.
New Orleans led by as many as 10 points in the first half after back-to-back 3s by Anderson and Aminu made it 43-33, but Jennings, who had 15 in the first half, helped the Bucks trim New Orleans' lead. Ellis then pulled Milwaukee to 53-50 at halftime with a 27-foot bank shot that he attempted at the horn after his attempted pass to the right sideline deflected back to him off of Smith's leg.
NOTES: Milwaukee F Mike Dunleavy returned to the lineup in a reserve role after missing one game with left knee soreness. He had six points in 20 minutes. ... Skiles opted for a starting frontcourt of C Ekpe Udoh, F John Henson and swingman Marquis Daniels. They combined for 11 points and 11 rebounds. ... In his second game back from offseason right knee surgery, Luc Mbah Moute had seven points and eight rebounds in 20 minutes. ... The Hornets entered the game shooting 44 percent for the season. ... New Orleans was 5 of 12 on 3-pointers. ... Vasquez narrowly missed a double-double with nine assists. ... The Hornets made all 11 of their free throws.