The New Orleans Hornets decided last November that Byron Scott was no longer the right man to lead their team, which is tied for the league’s best record in its first 10 games under Monty Williams.
Scott’s new club, meanwhile, appears to be exceeding expectations as well.
Back in New Orleans for the first time since being fired, Scott’s Cleveland Cavaliers try to extend their road winning streak to four while ruining the Hornets’ 6-0 home start Friday night.
Scott led New Orleans to the playoffs in 2007-08 and 2008-09 after missing them in his first two seasons, but a short postseason stay - which included an NBA-record 58-point loss - combined with a 3-6 start last season prompted the Hornets to replace him with then-general manager Jeff Bower.
But with Paul healthy and Williams - the NBA’s youngest coach - leading the way, New Orleans is thriving again. The Hornets (9-1) bounced back from their first loss Monday in Dallas against the same team Wednesday, overcoming a 10-point halftime deficit to knock off the Mavericks 99-97.
“They really came out and put it to us to start the game, so we had to come out and be more aggressive in the third quarter,” said Paul, who scored 16 of his 21 points after halftime. “That’s my responsibility. I can’t let us come out flat, and I did that tonight.”
Scott spent the remainder of last season as a TV analyst before taking the job in Cleveland, where he hoped to woo LeBron James(notes) back to a team that finished with the league’s best record in ’08-09 and ’09-10.
James took his talents elsewhere, but Scott has kept the Cavaliers competitive. Cleveland (5-5) had been outscored in five consecutive third quarters heading into Tuesday’s game against Philadelphia, but it went on a 26-16 run after halftime to break open a tie game en route to a 101-91 win.
“We’ve talked about it so much, just coming out more aggressive,” Scott said. “Tonight we came out with a different energy, different mindset and our effort was fantastic.”
Scott insists Friday’s opener of a three-game trip is nothing special.
“It’s just a road trip, and they happen to be one of the stops,” Scott said. “I’m excited to see (Paul), I haven’t seen him in a while.
“But this is a business trip.”
Cleveland’s Mo Williams(notes) is questionable with a groin injury that’s kept him out of five games, but backup Daniel Gibson(notes) has stepped up for a bench that’s averaging a league-best 44.1 points. Gibson scored a team-high 18 on Wednesday, and he’s averaged 17.7 during the road win streak.
He’ll be one of a number of Cleveland defenders that figures to get a crack at slowing Paul, whose team is 4-0 against the Cavaliers when he has nine assists or more and 0-5 otherwise.
Paul certainly has his former coach’s attention.
“He’s seen everything that you could possibly do to him (defensively),” Scott said. “He’s one of the best in the league, so whatever you do to him in the first quarter, you can’t give him a steady diet of it.
“If you do that, he’s going to figure it out.”