OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — Down 11 points early in the second quarter, Golden State Warriors coach Mark Jackson seemed more than satisfied with the way his team responded.
David Lee finished with 23 points and 16 rebounds, Stephen Curry added 20 points and nine assists and the Warriors shook off a slow start to ease past the New Orleans Hornets 98-88 on Wednesday night.
"There are great leaders on this team that see the finish line," Jackson said. "They see the finish line. They sense it, and they're doing a great job of keeping their foot on the gas pedal, running through the rope. I'm awfully proud of them, but we still have a lot of work to do."
With one eye on the standings and another on the court, the Warriors never looked discouraged.
Jarrett Jack had 19 points and eight assists off the bench against his former team to keep the Warriors in sixth place in the Western Conference playoff chase. Golden State (43-32) remained one game ahead of Houston (42-33), which won 112-102 at Sacramento. The Rockets own the tiebreaker after going 3-1 against the Warriors this season.
Golden State outshot New Orleans 46.2 to 39.8 percent, won the rebounding battler 47 to 39 and fought through foul trouble from its starting backcourt of Curry and Klay Thompson. The Warriors have held three of their last four opponents under 40 percent shooting.
"I think that's the good thing about it. You can go back a couple of games ago where I thought our offense, or lack of offense and making shots, affected us defensively," Jackson said. "Tonight we missed shots, but our defense kept us in the ball game until we began to make shots. That's our brand of basketball."
A style New Orleans never could solve.
Eric Gordon scored 21 points and Robin Lopez had 17 points and seven rebounds for the Hornets, who were swept 4-0 by the Warriors this season. New Orleans led by 11 points in the second quarter before the Warriors surged ahead for good, leading by as much as 16 points in the fourth.
"They switched, they blocked. They did a great job of knowing what we like to do and they really took us out of our offense," said Hornets forward Ryan Anderson, held to three points on 1 of 8 shooting. "They pressured us and we didn't respond very well. I think obviously they stepped it up."
The playoff chase has been evident all over Golden State's faces — literally.
Andrew Bogut convinced his teammates not to shave until the regular-season finale at Portland on April 17 to bond during the playoff push. Golden State closed the homestand 4-1.
With shadows and scruff starting to show, the playoff picture also is becoming clearer.
The Warriors are four games in front of the eighth-place Los Angeles Lakers and 4½ games ahead of the Utah Jazz. Any combination of three Warriors wins or losses by the Jazz would clinch Golden State's first playoff berth since 2007.
"The big thing for us," Lee said, "is continuing to compete."
After not playing since Saturday, Golden State hardly looked like a team headed to the postseason at the start.
At one point in the first quarter, the Warriors missed 10 consecutive shots from the floor during a scoreless stretch of more than 4 minutes. The Hornets took a 30-19 lead early in the second quarter behind a balanced backcourt of Gordon and Greivis Vasquez, though they missed a chance to create more separation when they had the chance.
"We felt like there was a little bit of a lull in the building," Jack said. "The fans were kind of just waiting, chomping at the bit for us to give them something to cheer for."
Once the Warriors found that rhythm, New Orleans struggled to slow them down.
Curry made a pair of 3-pointers and threw a deep pass to Lee for a runaway dunk to highlight a 25-6 surge that gave Golden State a 44-36 lead. Curry added another from beyond the arc to put the Warriors up 51-42 at the break.
New Orleans started strong — and Golden State didn't — again in the second half.
Lopez's short jumper in the lane sliced Golden State's lead to 69-68 late in the third quarter. Jack answered with a 3-pointer on the other end, and Curry hit another at the start of the fourth quarter to put the Warriors up seven and send a 28th straight sellout crowd announced at 19,596 into a frenzy.
Gordon tried to will New Orleans back, but had little help from a young team still trying to find its way. He made 10 of 11 free throws but shot just 5 of 17 from the field.
"Some guys had a tough shooting night but we had more defensive breakdowns in the first half than we've had in full games lately," Hornets coach Monty Williams said. "They did a great job of exploiting that."
NOTES: Hornets reserve F Lance Thomas sat out with a sore foot. Williams said Thomas hurt his foot in a workout Monday and is day to day. ... The Warriors have swept the season series against the Hornets four times in 26 years. ... A moment of silence was held before the game for Greg Willard, a longtime referee who died of pancreatic cancer Monday at age 54.