Hornets 108, Pacers 96
Already missing forward David West for the rest of the season, the New Orleans Hornets received another scare when Chris Paul crumpled to the floor with an apparent knee injury in the second quarter against the Indiana Pacers.
Paul turned out to be fine, and so are the Hornets' playoff hopes.
Trevor Ariza scored 19 points and Paul shook off the pain with 18 points and eight assists to lead the Hornets to a 108-96 win over the Pacers on Sunday night.
Paul hobbled off the court in the second quarter favoring his left knee - the same one that had to be surgically repaired last season and forced him to miss 24 games.
''I'm good,'' Paul said. ''Scared me, too. I knocked knees, but I'm all right.''
Paul collided with Indiana's Jeff Foster while the Pacers had the ball midway through the second quarter. When the Hornets gained possession, he called a timeout with 6:25 left while lying on the floor grimacing, and teammates gathered around him in concern.
New Orleans lost West, its leading scorer, to a torn ACL on March 24. Fighting to return to the playoffs after a one-year absence, the Hornets could not afford to lose Paul, a four-time All-Star and their floor leader.
''I knew that was his surgically repaired knee,'' backup point guard Jarrett Jack said. ''We just went through the situation with David, and seeing him on the ground, there's never anything good. I was glad he was able to get up and finish the game.''
After being assisted off the court, Paul stayed on the bench and returned to a loud ovation with a 3:38 left in the quarter.
He immediately fed Okafor for a layup.
Paul hit two jump shots and passed to Aaron Gray for another layup on the Hornets' next three possessions as they stretched their lead to 53-39. They put the Pacers away with a 13-2 run to start the second half, going ahead 70-46 on a running one-leg bank shot from Paul.
He even hit a 3-pointer after missing 14 in a row dating to March 16.
''We didn't really let the ball stop tonight,'' Paul said. ''There were times when somebody will penetrate, kick it to the next guy and we just hold it, not sure what to do. Tonight we didn't second-guess it. We ripped the gap, got into the lane and was able to make plays.''
Okafor, who had a double-double by halftime, finished with 14 points and 17 rebounds for the Hornets, who can clinch a playoff berth by beating Houston at home on Wednesday. Carl Landry added 18 points.
Ariza and Paul were both 8 of 13 from the floor.
''Chris had it going early, and the guys fed off of that,'' New Orleans coach Monty Williams said. ''Trevor was attacking early, he knocked down some shots and was getting to the basket.''
The game was never close. The Hornets led 29-21 at the end of the first quarter, 57-44 at the half and 89-65 entering the fourth quarter, outrebounding the Pacers 48-33 while shooting 51.2 percent.
''Our defense was not in synch like it had been the last couple of games,'' Indiana center Roy Hibbert said. ''We let guys drive to the basket right and left.''
Danny Granger and Mike Dunleavy each scored 15 points for Indiana, which snapped a three-game win streak and is two games ahead of Charlotte for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. Reserve A.J. Price had 12 points and six assists.
New Orleans, which had scored a season-low 12 points in the first quarter of a home loss to Memphis on Friday, came out hot, hitting 15 of 25 shots in the first quarter while taking a 29-21 lead. Ariza was 3 for 3 from the field, and Okafor had eight points and eight rebounds.
After the Hornets scored the first six points of the second quarter, they were in control the rest of the way.
Paul sat out the first 9 minutes of the fourth quarter, returning with 2:11 left after Indiana cut the deficit to 103-92. The Pacers could have cut it to single digits but Dunleavy missed an outside shot.
Jack and Okafor made two free throws on the next two possessions to close it out.
''I didn't want to put Chris back in the game and risk injuring his knee, banging it the way he did,'' Williams said. ''But they started knocking down 3s, and we had some guys out there in pretty difficult situations.''
Notes: With a steal off Hibbert in the third quarter, Paul became the fourth fastest player in NBA to history to record 1,000 steals, doing it in 420 games. The only guys who did it faster are Michael Ray Richardson (383), Michael Jordan (362) and Alvin Robertson (351). ... Indiana's Darren Collison, Paul's backup in New Orleans last season, had 10 points and five assists. ... James Posey, who played for the Hornets the past two years, went 0 of 4 from the floor before getting a dunk in garbage time.