Hornets, Paul sting Nuggets

Published 12:02 am Saturday, December 19, 2009

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Chris Paul had 30 points and a season-high 19 assists, and narrowly missed a triple-double with nine rebounds, to lift the New Orleans Hornets to a 98-92 victory over the Denver Nuggets on Friday night.

Paul scored 26 points in the second half, and with his assists combined for 41 of the Hornets’ 52 points over the final two quarters. Peja Stojakovic added 24 points, including four 3-pointers, to help New Orleans overcome a 15-point first-half deficit and win its second straight game. David West scored 12 points for New Orleans, while Emeka Okafor had 12 rebounds and five blocks.

J.R. Smith scored 25 points and Carmelo Anthony had 17 for Denver, which was without starting point guard Chauncey Billups because of a pulled left groin.

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Nene had 15 points and 10 rebounds and Ty Lawson scored 14, but the Nuggets finished 16 below their average for the season coming into the game.

New Orleans (12-13) has not been at .500 since winning its second game of the season, but is now 9-7 since Jeff Bower took over as head coach, with Tim Floyd as his lead assistant, and will have a chance to even its record on Sunday in Toronto.

Trailing 58-51 early in the third quarter, New Orleans stormed into the lead with a 10-0 run ignited by Stojakovic’s back-to-back 3s and capped by Paul’s steal that set up his jumper from the top of the key. The shot began a torrid third quarter for Paul, who poured in 18 points in the period after scoring only four in the first half.

Paul could not miss, whether he was heaving up a bailout 3 as the shot clock expired or driving for an underhanded scoop while being bumped by Denver center Chris Andersen. Paul was 7-of-7 in the period and delighted the crowd with a layup after his fake pass froze Kenyon Martin underneath the basket. His off-balance jumper staked New Orleans to a 79-71 heading into the fourth quarter.

Smith, a former Hornets first-round draft pick, quickly pulled Denver into a tie by scoring the first eight points of the final period while Paul was on the bench. Bower decided to put Paul back right back in and he quickly put New Orleans ahead again with a fadeaway off the dribble and a short jumper.

Anthony’s free throws cut Denver’s deficit to 94-90 with 1:24 to go, but Paul once again gave the Hornets separation with a running floater with 1:05 left. On New Orleans’ next possession, Paul missed a runner in the lane but grabbed the rebound, burning more precious seconds before hitting a step-back jumper to make it 98-90 with 19 seconds left.

That capped a vintage performance by Paul — a total takeover of a game that seemed to belong to Denver early on.

With the scored tied at 31 early in the second quarter, Andersen hit a short jumper that began a 14-0 Nuggets run.

Andersen later scored inside during the surge, which also including driving dunks by Smith and Nene. Arron Afflalo’s free throws made it 45-31.

The Hornets got rolling in time to keep the game from getting out of hand, closing the half on a 10-1 run that included a three-point play and 3-pointer by James Posey. Paul’s pass to Darius Songaila cutting through the lane for a layup trimmed the Hornets’ deficit to 52-46 at halftime.

NOTES: Paul has seven straight double-doubles since returning from his left ankle sprain. … Anthony, who has scored 30 or more points 17 times this season, failed to reach 20 for only the second time. … New Orleans’ Darren Collison registered his first career block in the second quarter. The 6-foot point guard hustled back on Lawson’s attempted fast-break layup after a New Orleans turnover. … The Hornets are 10-3 at home this season.