Paul shines as Hornets beat Lakers, minus GasolMar 15, 2008 - 4:58 AM NEW ORLEANS (Ticker) -- In a battle of Western Conference powers, Chris Paul strengthened his MVP resume, while the Los Angeles Lakers were left to worry about one of their stars.
Paul scored 27 points and dished out 17 assists to lead the New Orleans Hornets to a 108-98 victory over the shorthanded Lakers on Friday.
Paul, who entered Friday's play averaging 27.6 points and 14.0 assists over the last five games, continued to shine. The third-year pro hit 9-of-19 from the floor and orchestrated New Orleans' attack which shot 48 percent (41-of-84) from the field.
Paul heard chants of "MVP" late in the fourth quarter from just the sixth sellout crowd the Hornets have drawn this season.
"He's been playing great," Hornets coach Byron Scott said. "What else can you say? Like I said this morning, if I had a vote, and I might be a little biased, but I think he is the MVP.
"I think what he brings to the team and what he means to this team is obvious on the numbers that he's putting up. The way he's playing, there's not a point guard in the league right now playing better."
Peja Stojakovic added 15 points and David West had 12 and 14 rebounds for the Hornets (44-20), who moved within one-half game of the Lakers (45-20) and red-hot Houston Rockets for the top spot in the West.
Meanwhile, Los Angeles was left shorthanded minutes into the game as center Pau Gasol was forced to leave with a sprained left ankle.
X-rays were negative and Lakers head athletic trainer, Gary Vitti said Gasol's ankle is undergoing treatment. Whether or not he travels for Sunday's road game against the streaking Houston Rockets will depend on how the ankle responds.
Kobe Bryant, who fouled out late, tried to make up for the nearly 20 points per game Gasol provides by pouring in 15 of his 36 in the third quarter. However, the Lakers still trailed, 80-72, heading into the fourth.
The final period belonged to New Orleans, as it pulled away early with a 17-7 run.
Rookie Julian Wright hit a jumper for a 94-82 lead with 7:48 remaining, and Stojakovic drilled consecutive 3-pointers to make it 100-85 with 5:35 left.
The Lakers never recovered and trailed by double digits the rest of the way. Lamar Odom had 15 points and 13 rebounds for the Lakers, who shot just 38 percent (35-of-92).
"We played bad at both ends of the court," Odom said. "We have to execute. We're on the road playing against one of the hottest teams in the NBA. We have to execute."
"We just have to figure out what we're going to do to get back into the attack zone," Lakers coach Phil Jackson said of Gasol's injury. "We're going to play a small lineup which we did tonight, and try and make things happen like we had happen in the first half.
"We couldn't get away with it in the second half quite the same way."
New Orleans, which lost by 29 in the last meeting here on January 9, held a 55-43 edge on the glass.
"This is a huge win for us," said Hornets forward Tyson Chandler, who had 14 points and 20 rebounds. "It's kind of payback for us because they came out on our floor and embarrassed us last game. Plus, we wanted to make sure we came out with some energy and play with some heart tonight."
The Hornets got a brief scare late as Paul took a hit under the basket with 2:31 left and he laid on the ground for a few minutes. The Hornets called a timeout and Paul continued to play but appeared to limp. He was not available after the game.
"It was one of those things," Wright said. "He goes to the hole, he's taking those shots where he's forcing the defense to come over the top, you just hope he lands like a cat. He got up, he's tough."
Meanwhile, the Lakers face the prospects of not having Gasol when they try and end the Rockets' 21-game winning streak on Sunday.
"Every game is important in the West," Bryant said. "You can never afford to have a couple of off games. It's a big one, it's a big one, and we're looking forward to it."
LA LAKERS 98
NEW ORLEANS 108 FINAL
Mar 14 10:25 PM
LA LAKERS 72
NEW ORLEANS 80 END, 3RD QTR
Mar 14 9:49 PM
LA LAKERS 49
NEW ORLEANS 46 HALFTIME
Mar 14 9:03 PM
LA LAKERS 21
NEW ORLEANS 23 END, 1ST QTR
Mar 14 8:34 PM
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