The New Orleans Hornets have lost five straight road games but are playing well at home, where they’ll be for five of their next seven contests.
There’s an even bigger reason for optimism in the Crescent City.
Chris Paul(notes) returned to full-contact practice Thursday for the first time since injuring his ankle, opening the possibility he could return Friday night when the Hornets host the Minnesota Timberwolves looking for their fifth straight home victory.
Paul suffered a severely sprained left ankle on Nov. 13 in an 86-78 loss to Portland, New Orleans’ seventh in its first 10 games. While many expected the Hornets (7-11) to continue to flounder without the two-time All-Star, they’ve gone 4-4—with all four wins coming at home.
Paul worked out before New Orleans’ 110-99 loss at the Los Angeles Lakers on Tuesday, and didn’t give any indication when he might return. On Thursday, however, the former rookie of the year returned to full practice for the first time, and the Hornets didn’t rule out his potential return against Minnesota (2-16).
“With these (injuries), how the athlete feels the following morning is always such a determining factor,” coach Jeff Bower told the Hornets’ official Web site, adding that Paul would be re-evaluated Friday morning. “It’s too soon to say anything, other than that we’re encouraged.”
Paul has averaged 23.6 points, 12.8 assists and 3.2 steals in his last five games against the Timberwolves.
Part of the reason New Orleans has stayed competitive without its superstar has been the play of rookie Darren Collison(notes), who’s averaged 14.9 points and 6.4 assist in the eight games Paul has missed.
Collison had a team-high 20 points in the loss to the Lakers, which dropped the Hornets to 1-9 on the road.
Also missing Tuesday and in a loss Sunday loss at Sacramento was Peja Stojakovic(notes) - shooting a career-low 37.3 percent - who’s attending to a personal matter. With two of the team’s top scorers out, even more pressure has fallen on the shoulders of David West(notes), who was held to eight points in Los Angeles.
West didn’t seem happy with his team’s offensive rhythm - or tying his season low with nine field-goal attempts.
“I think in these last couple of games, we just don’t have a clear definition in terms of what guys are supposed to do,” said West, who was held to 11.5 points in two home wins against the Timberwolves last season. “There are too many guys trying to score the basketball and that’s us being sporadic in terms of how we can’t decide where we’re going to go with the basketball.”
Minnesota is about to get one of its top players back from injury, but Collison’s UCLA teammate Kevin Love(notes) - out since fracturing his left hand in the preseason - isn’t likely to return until Saturday’s game against Utah.
The Timberwolves earned their second win Sunday in Denver, stunning the Nuggets 106-100, but couldn’t make it back-to-back victories Wednesday. Ryan Gomes(notes) scored 20 points but Minnesota blew an eight-point halftime lead in a 97-95 loss to Memphis.
“Once again our youth was exposed,” first-year coach Kurt Rambis said. “We won every quarter except the critical one. We couldn’t get organized offensively, couldn’t get good scoring chances, good looks.”