Lineup tweak proves effective for Hornets
Paul had 24 points and 10 assists on a sore ankle, Devin Brown scored 25 points and the Hornets bounced right back from a blowout loss to the Lakers with a 112-84 victory over the Los Angeles Clippers on Monday night.
One night after the Hornets were routed 104-88 by the defending champions, they put Peja Stojakovic back in their starting lineup and promptly ended the Clippers' three-game winning streak with an emphatic victory.
In fact, they barely resembled the same team. Even after a scare when Paul tweaked his ankle shortly before halftime, New Orleans played sturdy defense and passed circles around the Clippers while building a 31-point lead on James Posey's layup at the third-quarter buzzer.
"It was very important for us to come back strong and show what we're really capable of doing," said Paul, who had a big bag of postgame ice on his left ankle. "There's still a long way to go in this season, and we have to get back to reaching our potential and doing our best."
David West added 17 points and nine rebounds in just New Orleans' second win in six games. Stojakovic scored 12 points in his first start of the season for New Orleans, which hasn't lost to the Clippers on the road since Nov. 12, 2006.
One day after New Orleans coach Byron Scott benched guard Morris Peterson in favor of Brown, Stojakovic replaced Julian Wright. While Brown was woefully ill-equipped to guard Kobe Bryant on Sunday, both changes paid big dividends for the Hornets one night later.
"I had to come back aggressive," said Brown, who hit five 3-pointers and made three steals. "We were able to knock down shots and get a good lead, but we were doing it more on defense. When you're talking on D, good things come easier. Hopefully we can get in a rhythm now and run some games off."
With his steady outside shot, Stojakovic hit two 3-pointers and scored eight points in the first quarter while New Orleans jumped out to an early 10-point lead. New Orleans made just seven turnovers in the first three quarters while making more than 55 percent of its shots, and all five starters sat out the fourth quarter.
"I knew it would happen sooner or later," Scott said. "You got to a point where you're tired of playing the way we've been playing, and the effort and the communication were better tonight. We did a real good job moving the ball, moving people around the floor."
Chris Kaman had 14 points and six rebounds for the lifeless Clippers, who lost their 10th straight to New Orleans, including six in Los Angeles.
"We didn't come mentally prepared for this game, and that's why we lost," Kaman said. "We've just got to bring the effort. We didn't have the effort tonight. Nobody really played that great for us."
Los Angeles played without second-leading scorer Eric Gordon, who has a sore groin. Reserve forward Craig Smith then left in the fourth quarter with a cut on his right eye caused by Hilton Armstrong.
Rasual Butler had 14 points against his former Hornets teammates. Ricky Davis also scored 14 points for the Clippers, whose indifferent spacing and passing on offense underlined why they haven't won four in a row since the start of the 2007-08 season.
"We stopped doing the things that have been so good for us so far," Clippers coach Mike Dunleavy said. "We've been moving the ball and getting good shots for ourselves, but we missed some guys that were open, and didn't share the ball as well. They had a couple of lineup changes, guys came in with their opportunity, and they made shots."
Paul came down awkwardly on Butler's foot 1:46 before halftime, two steps after making a layup. The U.S. Olympian had carved up Los Angeles' defense to that point with 7-of-11 shooting and speedy playmaking that left Baron Davis struggling to keep up.
Paul immediately went to the Hornets' locker room, but returned to start the second half with a ginger stride that disappeared once he started playing.
"The first couple of possessions, I felt it," Paul said. "That went away. We'll see how it feels in the morning."
NOTES: Butler spent the past four seasons with the Hornets, who traded him to Los Angeles in August for a second-round draft pick. New Orleans basically dumped his $3.9 million salary in the final season of his contract to the Clippers to open up playing time for Peterson and Wright. ... Peterson was inactive for the second straight game since losing his starting job. ... Clippers F Al Thornton and Hornets rookie G Marcus Thornton are cousins.