MILWAUKEE -- Andrew Bogut had no idea when the last time the Bucks were .500 this late. He is quite sure this is the best the Bucks have played this season.
"We've played pretty well in this stretch," said the Bucks center, who had his fourth consecutive double-double in Milwaukee's fourth victory in a row. "We've got to stay grounded, though. We're at .500, that's nothing to be proud about.
"We can't get cocky because obviously you guys are going to be talking about playoffs and the fans are going to start getting more and more vocal."
At least it's something to cheer about.
The former No. 1 overall pick was a rookie the last time the Bucks (28-28) were in contention late in the season. Milwaukee finished 40-42 in 2005-06 and finished eighth. Bogut says the Bucks blew a better seed by losing focus.
"We've laid eggs before in similar situations," he said.
Now, Milwaukee is tied for seventh in the Eastern Conference and back at .500 for the first time since Dec. 12 thanks to a 10-3 stretch.
Even stern coach Scott Skiles is upbeat.
"We're a fun team to watch when we play like that," Skiles said. "We fought our way back to get to .500. In order to get over .500, at some point you have to get to .500. That's silly, but it's true. Now we've gotten there."
Luc Richard Mbah a Moute had 10 points and 10 rebounds, and John Salmons added 18 points for the Bucks. Salmons has reached double figures in all four games since being traded at the deadline from Chicago and in his last eight overall.
"Getting traded in the middle of the season is crazy," said Salmons, who still hasn't practiced with the Bucks yet and says he knows only one play from the playbook. "We're not just trying to make the playoffs, we're trying to move up in the standings. We've got the opportunity to do that."
New Orleans' rookies led the way again. Marcus Thornton had 25 points, and Darren Collison added 22, but the Hornets (30-28) slipped three games behind eighth-place Portland in the Western Conference.
The Bucks outscored the Hornets 72-38 in the paint to snap New Orleans' eight-game winning streak in this series.
In the second half, Milwaukee turned up the defensive pressure, pulling away to start the third quarter and holding the Hornets to 5-of-19 shooting from the field in the quarter.
"We just didn't have enough fight, which is inexcusable for a team like this," Collison said. "Mentally, we weren't in it on the defensive end. They were executing really well. I give them credit. They ran their plays to perfection."
An unexpected lake-effect snowstorm made it difficult for the Bucks before the game and several players said it took two hours or more to make it to the Bradley Center. It took Skiles 90 minutes to travel 13 miles, but his Bucks kept scoring easy buckets and showing little rust from their travel woes.
Bogut scored 12 points in the first quarter, then 10 more in the third as Milwaukee led 89-72 entering the fourth. Bogut sat the rest of the way, six points shy of his career scoring mark.
"He went straight to the basket early," Thornton said. "That was the trend the whole game."
Milwaukee scored 76 points in the paint on Dec. 26, 2006 in a victory against San Antonio. ... Hornets F David West had 19 points and nine rebounds. ... Hornets G Morris Peterson strained his left hamstring less than five minutes into the game and did not return. ... Bogut had a stretch of six consecutive double-doubles from Jan. 11-20, but the Bucks went 2-4 in that span. ... Bucks C Primoz Brezec made his debut after being acquired in a deadline trade with Philadelphia.