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Butler's season high helps Hornets trounce Clippers

Jan 10, 2009 - 4:54 AM By Peter Finney PA SportsTicker Contributing Writer

NEW ORLEANS (Ticker) -- Rasual Butler's NBA future seemed in doubt last year when he was booked on a weapons charge and his playing time and confidence fell off the charts.

But the resurrection of Butler as a big-time scorer and his re-dedication to playing aggressive defense during a summer epiphany seems to have paid huge dividends.

Butler scored 18 of his season-high 27 points in the first half, including four 3-pointers, to spark the New Orleans Hornets to a 107-80 victory over the Los Angeles Clippers on Friday.

"Rasual is definitely a lot more focused this year and he's playing a lot more now," said point guard Chris Paul, who only had to play 29 minutes as the Hornets coasted and handed the Clippers their 10th consecutive loss.

"You always see him in the gym shooting, and he understands he's a huge key to this team winning and getting back to the playoffs."

Butler scored 18 points in the first 14 minutes as the Hornets opened a 35-23 lead. His big shots came on four 3-pointers, which were basically uncontested by the Clippers' listless defense. The Hornets (22-11) built as much as a 27-point lead in the fourth quarter.

"We're an unselfish basketball team, and we're always looking for the open guy and trying to figure out where the mismatches are," Butler said. "Luckily tonight I was the recipient of that."

Hornets coach Byron Scott said the credit for Butler's resurgence rests with his relentless work ethic during the summer.

"The difference basically started from training camp," Scott said. "He just was much more focused this year than he was last year. He got his house in order, basically. He put his life together. He understood what he had to do. Basketball again was a priority. I don't think it was a big-time priority for him last year."

James Posey came off the bench to score 16 and New Orleans' bench outscored the Clippers' 31-15. Shorthanded Los Angeles was playing without injured point guard Baron Davis in extending the longest losing streak in the NBA.

The Hornets were able to rest most of their starters in the fourth quarter. Paul scored only 10 points in just 29 minutes, and David West added 12 in 30.

In a recently completed four-game road trip in which New Orleans went 2-2, Paul (105 points) and West (99) had combined for 51 points per game.

The Hornets scored a season-high 62 points in the first half and raced to a 13-point lead, 62-49. Los Angeles played sagging defense and New Orleans buried 7-of-11 3-pointers in the first two quarters, most of them uncontested.

The Hornets made 21 of their first 33 shots (64 percent) and led by as many as 19 points, 55-36. They extended their lead to as many as 27 points in the second half.

Only the outside shooting of reserve guard Steve Novak, who made 4-of-5 3-pointers in the first half, kept the Clippers in the game. Los Angeles got 15 points each from rookie Eric Gordon and Mardy Collins, and Novak finished with 14.

It was not enough to match Butler's explosion. And Butler said the best is yet to come for him.

"I worked harder this summer than I've ever worked," Butler said. "I've always been a hard worker, but I felt like it was time for me to elevate my workout. I just was really committed to doing it six times a week, and now I'm having some success. This summer my offseason is going to be even tougher."