Chris Paul dealt with a brief bout of anxiety as he prepared to return from a mild concussion that had sidelined him for two games.
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It had nothing to do with his health, though.
”Before the game, I was a little bit nervous, just because I feel like we’ve been playing well and I didn’t want to come out and mess anything up,” Paul said.
The All-Star guard scored a season-high 33 points to go with 15 assists, seven rebounds and five steals, and the New Orleans Hornets beat the Sacramento Kings 115-103 on Saturday night.
”I’m never surprised by those kinds of numbers,” Hornets coach Monty Williams said. ”That’s what he’s capable of doing. Scoring 33 points is probably a little high for him, but he’s capable of that. When he’s able to push the ball in transition and knock down his jumper, he can do that more often than people think.”
David West had 25 points and former Kings forward Carl Landry added 20 for New Orleans, which has won four of five games and passed Portland for sixth place in the Western Conference.
Marcus Thornton, the former LSU star whose trade from New Orleans to Sacramento for Landry was unpopular with many Hornets fans, scored 25 points in his return. DeMarcus Cousins had 19 points and 11 rebounds, but foul trouble forced him to the bench early in the fourth quarter, when the Hornets were in the midst of a decisive 18-2 run.
It was the highest-scoring game of the season for the Hornets, who shot 52 percent (42 of 81) against a Kings squad that has lost six straight. Marco Belinelli added 12 points for New Orleans.
Samuel Dalembert had 16 points and eight rebounds for Sacramento, while Francisco Garcia added 12 points and Jason Thompson 10.
Sacramento shot 51 percent (33 of 65) through the first three quarters, but went 7 of 19 in the final one as New Orleans took command behind’s Paul’s 13 points in the period.
With Paul attracting attention, West shot 12 of 18 after going a combined 9 of 29 in the two previous games. Paul was 13 of 21.
”We just ran out of gas and couldn’t execute when we needed to in the fourth quarter,” Kings coach Paul Westphal said. ”Obviously, we couldn’t stop Chris Paul and David West. That’s pretty much the game in a nutshell.”
Paul had missed two games since slamming his head into the shoulder of the Cavaliers’ Ramon Sessions in a victory at Cleveland on March 6.
He returned to practice Thursday, and shortly before Saturday’s game, Williams put him in the starting lineup.
Paul’s effect was immediate. He had six points and five assists in the first quarter and also made passes on consecutive possessions to set up points at the free throw line by Belinelli and Landry.
Paul said he had spent his idle time watching every college conference tournament game he could, which only increased his eagerness to play again. Beyond that, he figured it was pure coincidence that one of his best games this season came in his comeback from an initially frightening but ultimately mild head injury.
”It just happened,” Paul said. ”I tried to be a little aggressive early and shots fell.”
The Hornets led by as many as 10 points early in the second quarter when Landry scored inside to make it 34-24, but the Kings responded with the next eight points and no team led by double digits again in the half, which ended in a 57-all tie.
With his mother sitting four rows from the court in a white Kings polo, Thornton received an enthusiastic welcome-back ovation from fans during introductions but started slowly, missing his first shot and not scoring until his driving reverse layup half way through the fist quarter. That changed quickly in the second quarter, however, when he scored 10 points, including a 3 from the corner and a fast-break layup after his steal from Paul, the latter giving the Kings the lead at 45-44.
By the end of the third quarter, he was the game’s high scorer with 23 points and the Kings led 85-84.
”It’s always good seeing familiar faces … but it’s kind of sad we didn’t get the win, because I’m a competitor first,” Thornton said.
The Kings led 86-84 early in the fourth quarter on Thompson’s free throw, then the Hornets locked down on defense and went on their game-breaking run, which included four jumpers by Paul, while Cousins was on the bench with five fouls and a sore left shoulder.
Cousins returned to the game with the Hornets leading 102-88, but by then Paul had the Hornets fully in control.
Paul said he emerged from the game feeling fine and concerned with little more than the sleep he might lose before Sunday morning’s practice because of daylight saving time.
”I’m cool right now,” Paul said. ”I just need to go lie down because we’ve got to set the clock up an hour, right?”
Notes: The Hornets have had 10 different starting lineups since Jan. 30. Most were because of injuries to Trevor Ariza (groin), Emeka Okafor (oblique) and Paul, but also because Belinelli briefly lost his starting job to Willie Green. … The Hornets are 23-9 at home this season. … Sacramento’s Beno Udrih missed his second straight game with the flu.