Smith scored 21 points and matched his career high with six 3-pointers Wednesday night as the New Orleans Hornets held off a late charge by the Los Angeles Clippers in a 102-89 win.
Smith, who was coming off a season-high 26 points in the Hornets’ last game against Phoenix, was 6-of-10 from 3-point range to help New Orleans build a sizable advantage.
The Hornets are now 5-0 when Smith scores at least 16 points.
“It feels good, of course, but (I’m) not unstoppable. My confidence isn’t that high yet,” Smith said. “I’ve got to just keep knocking open shots down, and hopefully it gets there.”
Smith hit back-to-back 3-pointers in the fourth quarter to put New Orleans ahead 89-70, and Speedy Claxton followed with a fast-break layup to give the Hornets their largest lead at 21 points.
Los Angeles responded with 11 straight points and got within 95-87 after Cuttino Mobley’s 3-pointer from the top of the key, but could pull no closer. The Clippers have lost three straight for the first time this season, but maintained a half-game lead over Phoenix, which lost 102-96 at Dallas.
New Orleans has won two in a row after a season-long five-game losing streak.
“We’re playing more together now. I think we’re playing a lot more as a team as opposed to just looking for one or two guys … to carry all the weight,” Smith said. “The points are a reflection. We’ve got five or six guys and everybody’s in double figures, so it’s hard to stop a team like that.”
“They were making shots and that is it,” Cassell said. “J.R. Smith was making shots just like he did … against Phoenix. That’s how you win ballgames — hitting shots. It’s pretty simple.”
It was Brand’s ineffective third quarter that helped the Hornets pull away. He had 19 points by halftime, but was held scoreless while playing the entire 12 minutes in the third quarter.
Mobley pulled the Clippers within 60-52 on a basket underneath just after halftime, but New Orleans extended its lead with a 17-6 run started by West’s jumper from the right elbow.
Smith followed with a 3-pointer and the Hornets finished the spurt with six straight points—a jumper by Brown, a two-handed alley-oop jam by Mason and a driving layup by Chris Paul—to go up 77-58.
Claxton added 14 points and Paul, the NBA’s top rookie in scoring, assists, steals and minutes, had 13 points and eight rebounds.
Smith hit his first three attempts from 3-point range, including two during a 9-0 run that put the Hornets ahead 39-27 early in the second quarter.
His jumper from the right elbow started another six-point run for New Orleans, and West and Paul added layups to extend the lead to 57-43.
“I think he’s just shooting it with a lot more confidence,” Paul said. “I think if you miss your first couple of shots in a game, you really get down on yourself.
“When he makes that first one, he’s got like four or five coming behind it.”
Smith scored 19 points in the Hornets’ season opener, but didn’t top 20 until New Orleans’ 91-87 win at Phoenix on Monday.
“It’s a lot easier for me when I let the game come to me,” Smith said. “Early on in the year, I was pretty much trying to force everything and everything was going against me.”
New Orleans’ Jackson Vroman was called for a technical foul and ejected after drawing his sixth foul with 5:47 left in the game. … Smith, who made all 10 of his free-throws in New Orleans’ 91-87 win at Phoenix on Monday, missed his first foul shot of the night. … Shaun Livingston, who scored only one point in the 2004 McDonald’s All-American game at the Ford Center, entered midway through the first quarter and picked up four fouls in his four minutes. He played 16 minutes in the second half and didn’t pick up his fifth foul until there were 40.4 seconds left.