After flirting with a quadruple-double in his latest game, Paul will try to lead the short-handed Hornets to their fifth win in six games on Wednesday night when they host Billups and the Nuggets, who are looking for their fourth straight victory.
Paul established himself as one of the league’s premier players last season, when he averaged 21.1 points and league highs of 11.6 assists and 2.7 steals to finish second to Kobe Bryant in the MVP race.
As good as Paul was, he’s averaging more points (21.3) in 2008-09 for New Orleans (27-14) while still leading the league in steals (2.8) and assists (11.1).
Many of those assists have gone to West, Paul’s fellow All-Star, but the power forward has missed the past four games with back spasms and isn’t expected back until next week.
Tyson Chandler has also been out, missing three games with an ankle sprain that’s expected to sideline the center for two more weeks.
Missing two interior threats, Paul has started to dominate. He’s averaging 26.5 points, 11.0 assists, 6.8 rebounds and 3.0 steals in his last four games, and was at his best on Monday against Philadelphia. Paul had 27 points, 15 assists, 10 rebounds and seven steals in the Hornets’ 101-86 win.
“He’s amazing,” said forward Peja Stojakovic, who had 26 points. “He does so many things for this ballclub and he’s getting better and better.”
Stojakovic also has stepped up. His 13.7 points per game is his lowest in nine seasons, but he’s averaged 22.3 points - and shooting 51.5 percent from 3-point range - since West went down.
“We’ve got so many shooters, and when they’re making shots like that, we’re tough to beat,” Paul said. “We see that from Peja all the time. When he gets hot like that, it’s lights out for teams.”
If Billups has been hitting, it’s typically been lights out for the Nuggets’ opponents this season. He shot a combined 31.0 percent as Denver (30-15) lost consecutive games to Orlando and Houston last week, but has hit 47.4 percent of his shots and averaged 24.3 points in his last three games.
With Billups connecting, the Nuggets have won all three. The latest came on Tuesday in Memphis, when his 29 points - 14 straight in the third quarter - led the way to a 100-85 victory, spoiling Lionel Hollins’ coaching debut for the Grizzlies.
“I kind of figured under some new leadership with Coach Hollins that they were going to play extremely tough and compete,” Billups said. “Once we figured that out and said ‘OK, we’ve got to tighten up,’ we were able to make the proper adjustments and get the game under control.”
Anthony is hoping to return on Friday from the fractured hand that’s kept him out since Jan. 5. But while he’s waiting, J.R. Smith has proven capable of hitting big shots, and is averaging 21.3 points in his last four games.
Smith had a season-high 32 in a 105-101 home loss to New Orleans on Nov. 27, then chipped in 17 off the bench as the Nuggets beat the Hornets 105-100 in Denver on Jan. 3.
Paul is averaging 26.3 points and 12.5 assists in his last four games against the Nuggets.