OAKLAND -- Once again, Golden State played to the level of its competition. But, as has been the case recently, the Warriors somehow managed to pull it out.
This time, it was the New Orleans Hornets, one of the worst teams in the Western Conference, that took the Warriors to the wire. This time, it was defense and free throws that propelled Golden State to a 103-96 win on Tuesday.
Still, the warmth of winning outweighs the concern over the team's inability to put away inferior teams.
"We're all about winning," forward Carl Landry said. "It doesn't matter where; if it's at home, on the road, practice, film session. Whatever it is, we all have a winning mentality, and every time we get an opportunity, that's what we're all about."
The Warriors (17-8) have won seven of their past eight games and are off to their best start since the 1991-92 season. It's only the fifth time in the past 45 years they have won at least 17 of their first 45 games.
Golden State has a good chance to pad its record since its next two games -- at Sacramento on Wednesday and against visiting Charlotte on Friday -- are against teams a combined 20 games under .500.
That's two more chances for the Warriors, owners of the eighth-best record in the league, to master the art of putting inferior teams in their place.
So far, the Warriors have struggled putting together complete games against the losing teams on their schedule. Even during their historic 6-1 road trip, the Warriors allowed for some tense moments at Washington and Charlotte. Earlier this season, they lost at Sacramento and barely survived against Cleveland.
Though they're winning most of these types of games, the need for improvement is still ever-present.
"We like the feeling of winning, so when things are kind of slipping away, we still have the wherewithal to dig deep and make plays in the fourth quarter," point guard Stephen Curry said after totaling 13 points on 13 shots. "But over the course of a season, you have to have some kind of finishing punch when you have control of the game -- especially when you're at home in front of your fans. You're going to have to grind out plenty of games regardless. So when you have an opportunity to make that knockout punch at the end of the third, beginning of the fourth, you've got to make that happen."
Certainly, putting away New Orleans was going to be even more of a challenge. Several Warriors, including coach Mark Jackson, said the first home game after a long road trip is always a tough one. Plus, New Orleans isn't as bad as its record might indicate. The Hornets have some pretty good young talent, led by No. 1 overall pick Anthony Davis, who finished with 15 points, 16 rebounds and four steals.
Still, the Warriors were in position to deliver that knockout punch, but just couldn't land it. They led by as much as 14 in the first half but were ahead just 59-50 at the half.
Golden State built a lead as high as 12 in the third quarter but was never able to put the Hornets away. The Warriors offense cooled off, knocking down just 7 of 20 from the field. Their rebounding kept them scoring just enough to stay ahead, converting five offensive rebounds into 10 second-chance points.
The Hornets weren't deterred, and that showed in the fourth quarter.
With 4:29 left, Hornets rookie guard Austin Rivers dropped a runner in to cut the Warriors' once-14-point lead to 92-89. Curry then missed a quick jumper, and Davis converted an outlet pass into a layup and the foul. His free throw tied the game at 92.
For the umpteenth time this season, the Warriors found themselves in a dogfight with a team they should blow out.
The Warriors responded immediately with a Curry jumper over Davis. After a stop, guard Jarrett Jack drew a foul penetrating and made the two free throws to put the Warriors ahead 96-92 with 1:24 left.
Golden State got a couple more stops, and more free throws from Curry and forward David Lee to prevent the momentum-killing loss.
"We felt like we were in control the whole time, even when they tied the game in the fourth quarter," Curry said. "But we can't let that happen, especially at home. We can't give them life at the end because that's how you end up regretting games at the end of the season."
"Not for me, and I don't think it was for him. Jarrett was extra amped up, and I was, too," Landry said after totaling 16 points and nine rebounds off the bench. "We didn't need a 5-Hour (Energy Drink). We didn't need anything like that. We were ready to play. Yesterday."
Jack and Landry were both casualties of the Hornets rebuilding. Jack, after a career year as the New Orleans' starting point guard, was traded to the Warriors for basically nothing. And the Hornets opted not to re-sign Landry. New Orleans drafted players at both their positions in Davis and guard Austin Rivers (No. 10 overall).
Warriors (17-8) at Sacramento (7-17), 7 p.m. CSNBA