Paul haunts ex-mates as Clippers top Hornets

LOS ANGELES (AP) — The New Orleans Hornets are just another opponent right now to Chris Paul, whose only incentive stems from the Western Conference standings and how high the long-suffering Los Angeles Clippers can get in the playoff seedings.

Paul had 25 points and 10 assists on Monday night in a 97-85 win against the team that first tried to trade him to the Lakers — a deal that was rejected by the league — before shipping the All-Star point guard to the Clippers shortly after the lockout ended.

“We had a lot of fun, just because we won. I could care less who the opponent was,” Paul said. “We’re playing for a lot right now, so we needed this win. It’s not about who we’re playing against. I’m far past that. I mean, my connection to that city will always be there. But I’m one of those people who, when you throw the ball up and you’re on another team, it is what it is.”

Blake Griffin added 20 points and seven rebounds to help the Clippers climb within two games of the Pacific Division-leading Lakers. Clippers reserve point guard Mo Williams missed his second game because of a sore big toe on his left foot, and is expected to be out at least another two weeks after getting it examined by a specialist Saturday.

Al-Farouq Aminu scored 15 points, and Carl Landry added 14 points and 10 rebounds for the Hornets, who didn’t have a player in double digits until Landry’s two free throws trimmed Los Angeles’ lead to 66-52 with 2:21 left in the third quarter. New Orleans committed a season-high 29 turnovers, leading to 35 points for the Clippers.

“Part of our bad start was not handling the ball correctly and turning it over. You really can’t get into a rhythm when you’re playing like that,” said point guard Jarrett Jack, who had five turnovers, nine points and seven assists. “I put a lot of it on my shoulders. I didn’t do a good job of setting a tempo for the game, and I am not really happy with the way I played.”

The Hornets were without 7-footer Jason Smith, who completed the two-game suspension he received from the league after his flagrant foul against Griffin at New Orleans.

Griffin exacted a measure of payback on the Hornets, committing a flagrant 1 foul on Trevor Ariza as he attempted a driving layup with 7:07 left in the third quarter. Ariza said something to Griffin and ended up with a technical foul. Paul made the technical free throw, Ariza made both of his following the flagrant, and when the dust cleared, the Clippers had a 55-44 lead.

“I didn’t do that for myself. I didn’t even think it was a flagrant foul. It was a good foul,” Griffin said. “Coach talked before the game about not giving up any layups, not giving up easy points and making teams earn it — just like they’re doing to us. That’s what that was.”

Griffin also got a technical from referee Pat Fraher after picking up his fourth personal foul with 9:29 left and the Clippers ahead by 23 points. After both coaches emptied their benches, the Hornets went on a 13-0 run that narrowed the gap to 90-76 with 3:50 to play, forcing Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro to put Paul and Randy Foye back in.

The Clippers hosted the Hornets for the first time since the Dec. 14 trade that brought Paul to Los Angeles in exchange for center Chris Kaman, guard Eric Gordon and Aminu. But the only member of that trio in uniform for the homecoming was Aminu, who made seven of eight shots in 25 minutes after missing Saturday’s game with a sore right ankle.

Kaman, who had 20 points and 10 rebounds in the Hornets’ 97-90 victory last Thursday, was too sick to play in the rematch after missing Saturday’s 89-86 home loss against San Antonio. Gordon, who hit a game-winning jumper with 4.2 seconds left in an 85-84 victory at Phoenix on opening night, has played in only two games all season due to a bruised right knee.

Hornets center Emeka Okafor missed his 22nd straight game because of a sore left knee.

The absence of Okafor, Smith and Kaman was felt right away by the Hornets, as the Clippers opened the game with an 18-2 run that included a 17-footer and an 11-foot pull-up jumper by Paul 58 seconds apart.

New Orleans quickly erased that 16-point deficit with a 14-3 run, capped by a layup by Xavier Henry that tied the score at 28. But they never did take the lead, and the Clippers built their margin to as many as 27 with 7:19 left in the fourth quarter.

“You’ve got to put teams away, especially teams like that,” Paul said. “I came to the bench and told the guys that this team is not going to stop playing.”

NOTES: Paul made nine of 17 shots. … A fan behind the visiting bench was ejected after throwing a peanut that struck Williams during a timeout with 8:08 left in the second quarter. … The Clippers never trailed in a game for the first time this season. … The Hornets came in with the league’s third-worst record and used their 18th different starting lineup.