NEW ORLEANS (AP) -When James Posey checks into a basketball game, he reaches down below his black knee pads and pulls a mouthpiece out of his sock.
Call it the sweet taste of victory for a guy who makes a living playing defense.
The New Orleans Hornets certainly didn't make the acquisition of Posey their top priority in free agency because of his career scoring average of 9.2 points. As coach Byron Scott likes to point out, Posey's two championship rings say a lot more about the nine-year veteran's value than his statistics.
``He's like a few players in this league that can affect a game without scoring,'' Scott said. ``He's going to take the charge, he's going to guard the best players, he's going to communicate at all times.
``I loved him for all those reasons,'' Scott said. ``He's won where he's been. He hits big shots in big games, he defends the best players almost every night.''
rous and more talented than the Spurs. What they lacked was the defensive toughness and playoff savvy to close out a series against veteran team that had won titles before.
Scott didn't want another scorer or another developmental project through the draft. He wanted a players who'd proven he could help teams win championships, as Posey had done with Miami in 2006 and with Boston last season.
So the Hornets sold their first-round draft choice, which freed up cash they needed to sign Posey to a four-year, $25 million deal.
Posey's stock as a free agent rose during the Celtics' title run, when he accepted and excelled at supremely difficult defensive assignments. In a first-round series against Atlanta, he guarded Joe Johnson. In the second round against Cleveland, LeBron James. In the third round against Detroit, Richard Hamilton. And in the finals? Who else, Kobe Bryant.
And while Posey isn't known for prolific scoring, he can drive opposing defenses mad with his knack for draining clutch perimeter shots.
rose to its feet, as did the Phoenix crowd, which headed for the exits.
Thanks in part to shots like that, Posey still doesn't know what it's like to lose in a Hornets uniform. New Orleans, which plays its home opener Saturday night against Cleveland, went 7-0 in the preseason before winning their first two regular season games at Golden State and Phoenix.
``He's used to winning, used to being in a certain type of environment,'' Hornets forward David West said. ``Just his presence and his ability to guard not only his guy but multiple positions puts him in a position to where his energy is contagious.''
Scott had high hopes for Posey, but was nonetheless impressed by how quickly Posey fit in and assumed the role of a de facto assistant coach on the defensive end.
``The way he interacts at practice, it's like he's been here already two or three years,'' Scott said. ``I felt he was a good fit for us, but it's like he's been almost perfect.
``He's the first player off the bench yelling at the guys on the floor to get stops,'' Scott continued. ``He's the first player in the huddle when we go back out there that's yelling, 'rebound,' or 'defend.' He's always talking about the defensive end. He has a great excitement for the game as well. It seems like he enjoys what he's doing.''
uthpiece, he reveals a flawless smile and says, ``I like to protect my pearly whites.''
In fact, Posey said, his father ordered him to start wearing it in high school and even told his coach not to play him if he didn't have it in.
``It seemed like once he said that, guys would get elbowed in the mouth, losing teeth and things like that and I was like, 'Good thing my dad told me,''' Posey recalled.
The knee pads? When he played in Miami, then-coach Pat Riley sometimes made the whole team practice with them. Posey decided to try them in a game when his knees were sore and got used to them.
Now Posey hopes he can get the Hornets used to playing, even practicing, like the two championship teams he's played for in the past three seasons.
``I'm just trying to share some of the things that I've learned on those two teams where I won and the mind-set as far as preparing yourself to actually win a title,'' Posey said. ``What I keep telling them is: It's a process. You can't get bored with it. You have to prepare for it each day by practicing hard, getting better and looking at the bigger picture of what you're trying to achieve. You can't get too high in this game in this game and you can't get too low. You've just got to keep working and keep pushing.''

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