Peja Stojakovic out with lower abdominal strain

The New Orleans Hornets’ depleted starting lineup is taking
another hit.

Forward Peja Stojakovic joined All-Star point guard Chris Paul
on the injured list Wednesday, and he’s expected to miss at least
two weeks with a lower abdominal strain.

“That’s a minimum timeframe, and it will all be dictated by the
healing process,” Jeff Bower, the Hornets’ coach and general
manager, said before his team’s game at Oklahoma City.

Even before Stojakovic was hurt Monday in a victory against the
Golden State Warriors, the Hornets had been scuffling. Entering
Wednesday night, they had lost six of their last eight games to
fall five games behind eighth-place Portland for the final playoff
spot in the Western Conference.

Paul has missed 19 games following surgery on his left knee last
month and was also sidelined for eight games earlier this season
with an ankle injury.

“Injuries are a part of this, and they’ve had an impact on us,
but our players have shown resiliency in the past and have
understood that we have to just figure out a different way whenever
someone goes down,” Bower said. “Our job is to put them in
position to be successful, and we’ll try to use the strengths of
the players that we have available to us to help our team.”

Julian Wright made his eighth start of the season Wednesday
night in place of Stojakovic, who had played in all but two of the
Hornets’ first 64 games this season and started 55 times.

“That phrase `if we stay healthy,’ is not one that we use or
will rely on,” Bower said. “We intend to continue to compete with
whatever the injury situation is.”

Stojakovic averages 12.6 points and leads the team with 132 made
3-pointers this season. Wright had made only two 3-pointers in 52
games.

“That changes the defensive floor. The fact that he’s spaced in
the weakside corner or on the weakside wing changes how the lane is
going to look,” Bower said. “That’s going to be a big thing for
us to have to deal with and overcome from an offensive flow and
movement standpoint. That will have a big impact that we’ll have to
handle.”

Bower said he hoped Wright, a first-round pick in 2007, would
use the extra playing time to further his development. With Paul
out, rookie Darren Collison has emerged as a budding star for New
Orleans, averaging 18.9 points and 8.8 assists in his 26
starts.

“I think he’s done a good job using his physical talents,
looking to be a bigger factor in transition and offensive board
work,” Bower said of Wright. “I think his overall offensive game
is coming along in a limited role.

“I think this opportunity is going to be a stretch where he’ll
get extended minutes and be able to settle into a comfort zone on
the floor perhaps, and we could see an increased level of
production from that standpoint.”

Paul casually shot around on the Ford Center floor prior to the
game but Bower said he’s progressing toward a return.

“When he’s able to get back on the court and begin running, the
transition will really take on a faster pace, and he’s getting very
close,” Bower said. “That’s the next step for him.”