NEW ORLEANS (AP)—Byron Scott figures he can no longer afford the luxury of resting his All-Star point guard.
Barring foul trouble, Paul’s stamina will be tested as much, if not more, in Game 4 on Monday night. His teammates are counting on it.
“It’s the playoffs. There’s nothing to save and Chris is such a passionate player, he wants to be out there,” Hornets center Tyson Chandler said after practice on Sunday. “It’s like you almost have to peal him off the court. He does a good job of letting coaches know when he’s really gassed so he can get a breather and get back out there.”
Paul did not speak to reporters after Sunday’s practice.
He played about 34 minutes in Game 1 and 38 minutes in Game 2. The Hornets lost both games by double digits.
With the Hornets desperate for a victory as the series shifted to New Orleans, Scott shortened his rotation, using only three reserves in Game 3: forward James Posey, center Sean Marks and guard Antonio Daniels.
The move paid off, barely. Not only was the margin of victory slim, but Chandler and fellow starter David West both fouled out, while Posey played the last 4:39 with five fouls.
Posey also sprained his right knee, but played through the injury throughout the second half and is expected to do the same as the Hornets attempt to even the series at 2-2.
Scott said the eight-man rotation “worked pretty good for us and it’s obviously something I’ll probably do tomorrow.”
“Sean and Posey played fantastic,” Scott continued. “AD did a real good of playing alongside CP. CP might not get any more rest. There’s no telling. At least with AD in there, I can take (Paul) off the ball where he can rest a little bit more on the offensive end. He doesn’t have to take all the pounding and try to run the offense and score as well.”
With 32 points and 12 assists on Saturday, Paul found a way to lead the Hornets to their first victory of these playoffs. The Nuggets figured Paul would have a game like that eventually, but Denver point guard Chauncey Billups was disappointed his team didn’t take advantage of every opportunity to tire Paul out even more.
“We feel like he has to play that many minutes for them to have a shot,” said Billups, who considers Paul a good friend. “His responsibility for his team is probably more than anybody’s in the league. We have to try to take advantage of him on the other end of the court, make him defend and try to wear him down a little bit.”
After Denver won the opening two games in lopsided fashion at home, Nuggets coach George Karl warned that his team should not take its series lead for granted. The Hornets may be hurting and lacking depth, he said, but they remain a threat as long as Paul is playing well.
“I’m hoping fatigue is a factor with him, but he has a little bit of a Superman makeup,” Karl said. “I’m not saying he is Superman, but he’s in that area of a Kobe Bryant, those special athletes who seemingly do whatever’s asked for them.”
For both teams, the bumps and bruises are piling up. Carmelo Anthony had ice on his right elbow after Sunday’s practice, treating a contusion he suffered in the fourth quarter of Game 3. Anthony said he would definitely play Monday night. Chandler, playing with a sore left ankle that has bothered him for weeks, also is expected to start.
Playing in pain won’t be easy if the rough stuff that defined Game 3 continues. There were 58 personal fouls called on Saturday, 29 on each team, including three flagrant fouls.
Hornets shooting guard Rasual Butler wound up with a bloody nose after being fouled hard by Billups on a fast break. He finished the game with cotton stuffed in a nostril.
“It’s playoff basketball,” Scott said. “Each game is probably going to get a little bit more physical. It’s nothing that I’m not used to and I think our guys are starting to get used to it.
“Our guys are taking their bumps and bruises and getting up and playing basketball,” the Hornets coach continued. “They’re not complaining about it. They know this is how it’s going to be. That’s what I’m happy about.”