The New Orleans Hornets hope to have Chris Paul back in the lineup against the Portland Trail Blazers as they try to head into the All-Star break on their longest winning streak in nearly three years.
Paul has missed the last three games due to bruised ribs suffered in last Wednesday’s victory over Seattle, but the Hornets have managed to win all three of those contests behind the strong play of Speedy Claxton to extend their winning streak to four.
New Orleans, which has victories in eight of its last nine games, hasn’t won five straight since the end of the 2002-03 season.
Claxton had 16 points and 10 assists in a 97-96 win over Washington on Monday, and has averaged 20.7 points and 9.3 assists starting the last three games in place of Paul.
While Claxton had another stellar game Monday, it was David West who took an inbounds pass and nailed a 20-footer at the buzzer to give New Orleans the victory. It was the third game-winning shot for West this season.
“The guys have got confidence in me. The coach has got confidence in me,” West said. “I felt my nerves a little, but once I got the basketball, I just took my time and knocked the shot down.”
“We just felt we needed three point guards,” Hornets coach Byron Scott said. “We’ve shown in a few games (without Paul) that we needed that extra ballhandler. Moochie is more insurance than anything.”
Portland, finishing a six-game road trip before the break, ended a four-game slide with a 101-93 win over Charlotte on Monday. After losing its three previous games by a combined 97 points, the Blazers rebounded behind Zach Randolph’s 21 points and nine rebounds.
Portland was also boosted by the return of Darius Miles, who hadn’t played since Dec. 2 due to a sprained left knee. Miles came off the bench to score 14 points.
“We had to bounce back,” Randolph said. “Our guys came out and played hard. D-Miles came back and we just came out and played hard.”
Portland’s defense was also improved, limiting Charlotte to just over 40 percent shooting. The Blazers allowed opponents to shoot nearly 51 percent during the losing streak.
Blazers guard Juan Dixon has played well against the Hornets this season, averaging 27.5 points on 56 percent shooting in two games.