Until now, he hasn’t had a chance to impress the Orlando Magic.
Paul will take the court Tuesday in Orlando against the only team he’s yet to face this season as the Hornets looks to maintain their lead in the tightly packed Western Conference.
The Hornets (50-22) have only been without Paul twice this season, but one of those games was when Orlando (47-27) visited New Orleans on Nov. 19, a 95-88 Magic victory.
Orlando coach Stan Van Gundy was happy to get a win, but was quick to acknowledge who the Hornets were missing.
“The Hornets deserve a lot more credit tonight than we do,” Van Gundy said after Paul sat out that game with a sprained ankle. “I am being honest. The thing that helped us was Chris Paul being out.”
Paul has made New Orleans into not only one of the NBA’s surprise teams, but also one of the league’s best. Since March 5, Paul is averaging 24.4 points, 14.1 assists and 2.6 steals, leading the Hornets to 10 wins in 13 games and the top spot in the loaded West.
Paul had 20 points and 16 assists on Sunday as New Orleans beat Toronto 118-111 for its sixth win in seven games. Raptors coach Sam Vincent was the latest coach to come away impressed with Paul.
“They definitely have a legit argument that he’s the best guard in the league and he’s definitely an MVP candidate,” Vincent said.
The win in Toronto was big in the race for home-court advantage in the West, but it was also the Hornets’ 50th, already an 11-game improvement over last season.
“It’s huge for us,” said forward David West, who had 32 points. “I don’t know if many people expected us to be where we are. We feel good about it but we’re not settling for just 50.”
West, who joined Paul on the West’s All-Star team, is averaging 26.8 points and 8.0 rebounds in his last six games.
The Magic don’t have to worry about a tight race to the playoffs. They’ve already clinched the Southeast Division title and considering they’re 5 1/2 back of second-place Detroit and six games in front of fourth-place Cleveland, are essentially locked into the Eastern Conference’s No. 3 seed.
They had lost three of four before winning 103-86 at Milwaukee on Friday, their franchise-record 24th road win.
“Our guys have sort of bought into wanting to raise the bar a bit here,” Van Gundy said. “I think that’s a nice accomplishment. And it’s one of the goals we’ve had on the board for the last week.”
Dwight Howard had 25 points and 11 rebounds for the Magic, posting his league-leading 64th double-double.
Hedo Turkoglu and Rashard Lewis combined to hit five 3-pointers against the Bucks, as the Magic connected on 10-of-28 from beyond the arc. Orlando has taken more 3s than any team in the Eastern Conference, and it makes 38.6 percent of its attempts, fourth in the NBA.
The Hornets are only 10th in the league in 3-point attempts, but have the league’s second-best percentage (39.3), led by Peja Stojakovic’s 45.9 percent.
New Orleans has won three of its last five trips to Orlando.