New Orleans (18-12) at Minnesota (7-24)

By JEFF BARTL, STATS Writer Monday, Dec 27, 2010 Tipoff: 8:00 pm EST Mon Dec 27, 2010

Chris Paul(notes) isn’t having a dream season for the New Orleans Hornets by any means. He’s scoring the least amount of points since his rookie season and is below his career average in assists.

When facing the Minnesota Timberwolves, however, Paul seems to take his game to another level.

New Orleans goes for its third straight victory for the first time since mid-November on Monday night when it visits the Timberwolves, who will try to avoid a seventh straight loss to the Hornets.

New Orleans (18-12) is coming off a come-from-behind 93-86 victory over Atlanta on Sunday, led by Paul’s 22 points and eight assists. Paul scored 13 in the third quarter, helping the Hornets overcome a nine-point halftime deficit.

The star point guard shot 10 of 17 against the Hawks after attempting only eight shots and scoring 12 points with 14 assists in Wednesday’s 105-91 win against New Jersey. Coach Monty Williams said Sunday’s performance was more reminiscent of how important Paul is to his squad.

“That was just Chris Paul being Chris Paul,” the first-year coach said.

Paul had only four points at the half before breaking out in the third, when the Hornets outscored the Hawks 28-16. He’s averaging 16.3 points—his fewest since posting 16.1 as a rookie in 2005-06, and his 9.8 assists are the lowest since posting 8.9 in an injury-shortened 2006-07 campaign.

“I told him, ‘Hey, you have to be a scorer for us. Our offense is kind of stagnant there. You’ve got to be aggressive and be ready to score,”’ teammate Jarrett Jack(notes) said.

Paul seems to heed that advice against the Timberwolves, as he’s averaging 21.6 points and 10.4 assists in 14 career meetings. Reaching those numbers again may be likely given that Minnesota ranks last in the NBA allowing 110.1 points per game.

The Timberwolves (7-24) gave up fewer than 100 for only the fourth time in 13 games Sunday with a 98-97 victory over Cleveland to snap a season-high seven-game slide. Michael Beasley(notes) scored with 5.9 seconds remaining and finished with 28 points—the third straight game in which he’s surpassed 20.

“Everybody just kind of rallied around each other,” Minnesota coach Kurt Rambis said. “It wasn’t a good ballgame for us. I don’t think we played particularly well, but we played well in spots to get a win.”

Beasley also helped Minnesota overcome a slow night from Kevin Love(notes). The NBA’s leading rebounder with 15.6 per game, Love didn’t score until there was 9:10 remaining, and finished with 16 points and 18 boards.

“It was a slow game for me,” Love said. “I don’t know if it was Christmas or if it was the food I had yesterday. I was sucking wind out there. I was a little slow those first three quarters.”

Minnesota has lost six straight to New Orleans by an average of only 7.5 points since a 116-108 home victory on Jan. 23, 2009.

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Monday, Dec 27