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News » Hornets-Thunder Preview 2009-02-17

Hornets-Thunder Preview 2009-02-17

Hornets-Thunder Preview 2009-02-17
Chris Paul's return from a groin injury wasn't enough to help the New Orleans Hornets end the first half of the season on a high note. His performance in the All-Star game, however, has many feeling optimistic about a better second half.

Paul and the Hornets open the second half of the season Tuesday night by visiting the Oklahoma City Thunder, hoping to get their four star players together on the court for the first time in a month.

After winning a franchise-record 56 games and reaching the playoffs last season, New Orleans (30-20) was expected to challenge for the Western Conference title. Injuries have kept the team from really taking off, however. Paul, Peja Stojakovic, David West and Tyson Chandler all were sidelined at some point during the first few months, and they haven't been on the court all together since Jan. 17.

With all the injuries, it's not surprising the Hornets lost six of their final eight games before the break - capped by an 89-77 loss to Boston last Wednesday. They are tied for sixth place in the West, 2 1/2 games ahead of ninth-place Phoenix.

About the only upside going into the All-Star break was that Paul returned after missing four games with a right groin strain. He had 13 points and five assists in 31 minutes.

"I was a little nervous about what I could do, whether I could cut," he said. "It's one thing in practice, playing two-on-two, but it's another thing playing at game speed. But I'm excited because now I feel good to go."

Any hesitation Paul was feeling disappeared at the All-Star game on Sunday in Phoenix, where he totaled 14 points, 14 assists and three steals in the West's 146-119 win over the East.

With Paul back healthy, the Hornets are hoping that Chandler will soon follow. New Orleans' leading rebounder missed the last 12 games before the break with a sprained ankle, and it's uncertain whether he'll be ready for this game.

The Hornets may not need him against the Thunder (13-40), though. They have won seven straight over that franchise, including both meetings this season. In their first game at the Ford Center as a visitor after playing there from 2005-07 following Hurricane Katrina, the Hornets won 105-80.

Oklahoma City comes out of the All-Star break with the third-worst record in the NBA with little signs of improving.

It was a tumultuous first half of the season for the Thunder, who not only dealt with the relocation of the franchise, but also the firing of coach P.J. Carlesimo. They dropped five of their final seven games before the break, including a 106-92 loss at Portland last Wednesday.

One of the few bright spots for the Thunder has been the play of Kevin Durant, who is fifth in the league in scoring at 25.5 points per game. The second-year pro is averaging 30.8 points in six games in February.

Durant was busy during the All-Star break despite not being chosen for Sunday's game. He won the H-O-R-S-E competition on Saturday after scoring a Rookie Challenge-record 46 points to lead the sophomores to a 122-116 victory over the rookies on Friday.

Durant being on the winning side has been a rarity. His efforts haven't been enough for the team to overcome ranking 25th in the NBA in scoring defense, giving up 103.3 points per game.

The Hornets have averaged 107.0 in the two victories.

Author: Fox Sports
Author's Website:
Added: February 17, 2009


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