Wolves fall to Hornets 98-89

NEW ORLEANS (AP) Chris Paul was not

sure he would be able to stay on the court in his first game in three

weeks. He did much more than that, coming close to a triple- double in

his return after missing eight games because of a sprained ankle.

Paul finished with 16 points, 15

assists and a season-high eight steals, one off his career high, and

Devin Brown had 19 points in the New Orleans Hornets’ 98-89 victory

over the Minnesota Timberwolves on Friday night.

No one on either team played as much as Paul, who logged 38:32.

“I think it was the adrenaline,” he

said. “I got to the game early and had a nice workout. I was nervous. I

give credit to my teammates for bearing with me and having confidence

in me.”

Paul found his rhythm near the end of

the second quarter, scoring all five of his first-half points in the

last 31 seconds as the Hornets closed with a 9-0 run to pull to 49-47.

His floater in the lane with 30.8 seconds left was his first basket in

six attempts, and he sank three free throws after drawing a foul from

Ryan Hollins while attempting a 30-foot shot at the buzzer. Hollins

could not get out of the way after Paul slowed down and stepped in

front of him.

Officials checked the replay to determine if time had run out, ruling that one-tenth of a second remained.

“That foul at the end was huge, it

got me going a little bit,” Paul said. “I was so frustrated with

myself. All this time I’ve been out I’ve had to time to shoot, and then

I go out and miss those first four or five shots.”

The Hornets turned a 63-61 deficit

into a 75-65 lead with a 14-2 run at the end of the third quarter and

led by at least five points the rest of the way. David West put them

ahead for good, 65-63, with a basket after blocking a shot by Kevin

Love.

Brown led a balanced scoring attack for the Hornets. West and Emeka Okafor each had 17 points.

Al Jefferson had 20 points and 14

rebounds for the Timberwolves, who have lost 17 of 18 since beating New

Jersey in their opener. Ryan Gomes added 15 points.

Minnesota coach Kurt Rambis said the Hornets’ run at the end of the first half was the turning point.

“It wasn’t necessarily (Paul),”

Rambis said. “Some of it had to do with us. We turned the ball over, we

missed free throws. There was an ill-advised foul when he (Paul) jumped

into Ryan Hollins and it was called in his favor. That run happened in

53 seconds. We don’t keep our focus.”

Brown’s layup at the third-quarter

buzzer gave New Orleans its first double-digit lead. Minnesota went

more than four minutes without a basket and shot 7-for-22 in the

quarter.

“The end of the first half changed

the whole tempo of the game,” Love said. “They came out and beat us up

a little bit in the third quarter.”

The Timberwolves pulled within six

points five times in the fourth quarter but did not get closer until

Love sank a 3-pointer to make the score 87-82. Paul responded

immediately with a 3 to get the lead back up to 8.

Minnesota’s last chance ended when

Love stepped out of bounds just before converting a layup and getting

fouled as the Timberwolves trailed 94-84 with less than three minutes

left.

Paul made nice passes to Emeka

Okafor and Peja Stojakovic for lay-ups in the first quarter, but he was

not at full speed early. With a chance to drive to the basket on a fast

break, he pulled up and missed a flat-footed 6-foot shot. He also was

slow getting up the court on a few possessions and missed his first

four shots.

Minnesota led by as many as 11

points, 49-38, in the first half after going on a 10-0 run early in the

second quarter. Wayne Ellington and Sasha Pavlovic hit 3-pointers to

bookend the spurt, but the Timberwolves gave almost all of the

advantage away in the final minute.

Paul made them pay the rest of the

way. He was not expected to return until Tuesday at the earliest

against Sacramento, but he decided he could not wait any longer.

“I knew at some point I was going to

have to come back and test it and get a good barometer,” he said. “This

way, if it didn’t work out I’d have four days before we came back and

played another game.”

NOTES: Love, the No. 5 pick in the

2008 NBA draft, played in his first game since breaking a bone in his

left non-shooting hand in the preseason. He finished with 11 points and

11 rebounds after entering with 6:20 left in the first quarter … The

Timberwolves had won their last road game 106-100 against Denver. …

The Hornets have won five in a row at home.