Blazers Keep Pressure on Nuggets

By: Associated Press
By: Associated Press

NEW ORLEANS - (AP) Chris Paul darted into the paint, bounced a pinpoint pass to James Posey under the basket and suddenly dropped to the floor, clutching his right leg as the New Orleans Arena fell silent.

As the Hornets' leader limped to the locker room, he seemed to take with him everything his team had been doing right against the Portland Trail Blazers.

"The responsibility of playing the game after Chris Paul got hurt really affected all of us," Hornets coach Byron Scott said. "I think we forgot that we had a game to play. ... They started to smell blood and got really aggressive."

LaMarcus Aldridge scored 22 points and the Trail Blazers extended their winning streak to five, erasing a 17-point deficit after Paul's injury en route to a 97-89 victory Monday night.

"They got kind of rattled and defensively we were able to take the Hornets out of what they wanted to do when Chris Paul went out," Aldridge said. "We immediately got more aggressive and started to force more turnovers."

Hornets spokesman Dennis Rogers said Paul, who has started all 45 of the team's games this season, strained his right groin. Paul walked out of the arena with a slight limp, saying only that he hurt himself when he "stepped wrong" and plans to have an MRI on Tuesday.

Paul had 12 points and 13 assists as New Orleans built a lead as large as 70-50 with 2:41 to go in the third quarter.

The Hornets led 72-55 when Paul left the game with 1:30 left in the period. Portland then outscored New Orleans 26-7 during the next seven minutes, with Jerryd Bayless scoring 13 of his 19 points during the decisive surge.

The rookie guard threw down a couple of thunderous fast-break dunks during the spurt and added a fast-break layup as he was fouled by Posey.

"He was really the spark that turned everything around for us," Aldridge said. "We got into a groove. We felt that we had it in our hands."

Rudy Fernandez's 3-pointer, after which he turned to the sideline and let out a roar, capped the surge and gave Portland an 81-79 lead.

New Orleans tied the game twice more before Travis Outlaw hit a jumper and a driving floater over a crowd of defenders to put Portland in the lead for good and ensure New Orleans' longest losing streak of the season at three games.

Outlaw finished with 16 points and Fernandez 15 for the Blazers. Aldridge also had 11 rebounds, Joel Przybilla grabbed 10 and Portland outrebounded New Orleans 52-32.

David West scored 25 points for the Hornets and Peja Stojakovic 18, but after Paul left the game, the Hornets were 5-of-21 from the field (24 percent) with only two assists and five turnovers.

Before Paul left, New Orleans shot 49 percent (29-of-59), racked up 20 assists and committed only two turnovers.

"When you have a guy that's an MVP-caliber player, that so much of what we do relies on him, it's a tough adjustment, even if it's just for a quarter," Hornets reserve point guard Antonio Daniels said. "God willing he'll be back the next game, but if not we have to find a way to get the job done."

The Hornets play next at home on Wednesday against Chicago.

Paul assisted on the Hornets' first seven baskets and had nine assists in the first quarter alone. He also had two steals, the second coming when he stole an inbounds pass and went all the way for a fast-break layup, giving New Orleans a 24-15 lead.

Outlaw's jumper pulled Portland as close as 29-27 in the second quarter, but then New Orleans began to pull away again on Rasual Butler's jumper and Daniels' fast-break layup.

Paul checked back in and promptly set up West's jumper and Melvin Ely's dunk. Paul added a 3-pointer with two seconds to go in the period, giving the Hornets a 48-39 halftime lead.


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