NEW ORLEANS -- Monday, the New Orleans Hornets used a late-game rally to take down the Toronto Raptors and pick up their fifth straight win, as a nice crowd soaked up the rare afternoon game.

'It looks like it's pretty crowded here tonight, so hopefully everybody stays with it, keeps it going,' said Jason Peters from New Orleans East.

Fans are paying close attention to attendance totals at the arena these days. Monday's announced, paid attendance was 15,155 -- a step in the right direction as the all important benchmark deadline approaches.

Attorney Morris Bart, who is interested in buying part of the team, is hopeful.

'We've got some great games coming up,' Bart said. 'We've got the Spurs this weekend, we've got Oklahoma. I think the momentum is building at just the right time heading into this attendance benchmark.'

A clause in the Hornets lease agreement with the state calls for an average attendance of 14,735. If that number isn't reached over the next three home games, the team could opt out of its lease, while paying a penalty.

Fans like Christian Mathis say they'll keep doing their part.

'It looks pretty good today. You know, I came tonight, Wednesday, I'll be here again next Monday,' he said. 'I'm trying, you know. It would be a shame if we lost 'em.'

Across the city, however, efforts are well underway to prevent that from happening.

In recent weeks, the local business community has stepped up to help. Greg Rusovich, who heads up a group called the Hornets Business Council, said local companies have bought more than $400,000 worth of tickets over the last three weeks.

'We're cautiously optimistic. We're starting to get within striking distance and we're optimistic we'll get there,' Rusovich said. 'Once we get to the benchmark, then we can focus on season tickets and building a foundation.'

In the meantime, Bart continues working to put together a group of local buyers.

'Gary Chouest indicated he wants to buy a majority interest, I've expressed my interest in buying 10 percent, and now the group of 20 qualified individuals who are willing to buy the remainder, but at this point it's just wait and see,' Bart said.

It's 'wait and see' how a number of factors play out, with fan support ranking near the top of the list.

Hornets officials say, heading into Monday's game, an average attendance of just under 15,000 was needed over the final four games. They plan to release updated figures sometime Tuesday.

Fans now have three home games left to show support before the benchmark deadline: Wednesday vs. Memphis, Saturday vs. San Antonio, and next Monday vs. Oklahoma City.

Read or Share this story: