After making the leap from perennial lottery team to contender in the deep Western Conference last season, the New Orleans Hornets encountered some unanticipated struggles early this season.
Chris Paul’s recent play has made that rough stretch a thing of the past.
Paul looks to record his third consecutive triple-double and lead the Hornets to their fourth straight win on Thursday night when they visit the Denver Nuggets.
After three straight trips to the lottery, New Orleans won a franchise-record 56 games last season. The Hornets looked capable of similar success during their 3-0 start, but went on to lose five of their next seven contests.
Paul has helped the team bounce back with three straight victories. He’s averaging 20.0 points, 8.7 rebounds and 13.0 assists during that run, which includes the first back-to-back triple-doubles of his career.
The fourth-year point guard had 29 points, 10 rebounds and 16 assists in a win over Oklahoma City on Saturday before scoring 14 points with 10 boards and a season-high 17 assists in Monday night’s 99-87 victory over the Los Angeles Clippers.
Jason Kidd is the last player to record three straight triple-doubles, doing so from Jan. 4-8 last season. Other than Kidd, the most recent player to accomplish the feat was Grant Hill, who did it April 11-14, 1997 while with Detroit.
Paul, though, is focused less on joining their company than on keeping New Orleans rolling.
“Hopefully we can feed off this energy and make sure it’s not just a fluke,” he said.
Paul, who has six career triple-doubles, got plenty of help Monday from forward David West, the other half of the dynamic 1-2 punch that fueled the team’s resurgence last season. West had 27 points and went 12-for-21 from the field against the Clippers.
“We really wanted to come out aggressive,” West said. “I think we’re starting to get a better rhythm and we’re playing well. I’m a little more relaxed, playing looser. I’m not as worried about making mistakes.”
While Paul has the Hornets feeling as confident as they have since the beginning of the season, the team’s win streak includes two victories over one-win Oklahoma City and one over the two-win Clippers. Denver (10-5) presents a whole new challenge.
The Nuggets have won nine of 11 since Chauncey Billups debuted with the team following a trade from Detroit. Billups was 2-for-10 from the field but had 11 assists as the Nuggets edged the Clippers 106-105 Wednesday night.
Carmelo Anthony added 30 points and 11 rebounds for his third straight double-double in the hard-fought win.
“It will look a lot better tomorrow when we are eating turkey,” Nuggets coach George Karl said.
Paul doesn’t have any triple-doubles in nine career games against the Nuggets, but he came close in each of the Hornets’ two wins against them last season. He had 15 points, eight rebounds and 11 assists in a 93-88 road victory Nov. 4, then delivered 23 points, nine rebounds and 17 assists in a 117-93 rout in New Orleans on Jan. 28.